October 22, 2019

The worst possible scenario on Iran


I’m done moderating two panels at the Israeli Presidential Conference (one and two). ‎I’m done talking to dozens of the people attending, and done hearing other people’s ‎panels. I’m done with this year’s conference. I’m tired and have a headache, and am ‎still trying to figure out a theme coming out of the conference. ‎

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you a couple of notes from a round table on the ‎future of US-Israel relations moderated by Mike Herzog. It was closed to the press ‎‎(namely, to other press), and attended by luminaries such as Stu Eizenstat, Richard ‎Haass, Uzi Arad, Dore Gold, Malcolm Hoenlein, Abe Foxman, Dan Mariaschin, ‎David Makovsky, Alon Pinkas – I can’t name them all but you get the picture (if ‎you’re not familiar with the names, Google them). Here’s an outline of some of the ‎things that were said about some of the topics discussed. It does not do justice to the ‎two-hour discussion, but will give you some idea of what was going on.‎


Iran was the main topic of discussion and debate. The sources of disagreement were ‎these:‎

  • Can Israel attack without American consent? Zvi Rafiah said no way – and he ‎didn’t mean Israel can’t do it operationally. Israel’s total “dependence on the ‎US” is what precludes such possibility in his view.‎
  • Should Israel act without American consent, and militarily attack Iran? “If ‎Israel were to act before sanctions have played out — it would be a serious ‎mistake”, Eizenstat said. “The real debate is on the real date in which the ‎Israeli window for action closes”, said Makovsky.‎
  • Can Israel trust the US to prevent Iran from getting the bomb? Eizenstat was ‎the one most openly “disturbed by notion that the President of the US is not to ‎be trusted”.‎
  • What happens if there’s a “bad deal” (“the worst possible scenario”, according ‎to Foxman)? Arad says deal or no deal there’s a “clear need for a strong ‎American statement” about “further action”. If there’s a deal, the statement ‎would clarify that any attempt at cheating will be met with military action. If ‎there’s no deal, it will clarify “time tables and consequences of further action”.‎


Another point over which there was some measure of disagreement: would the Iran ‎nuclear issue be a wedge issue between Israel and the US? Hoenlein said yes: Iranian ‎victory could cause “the most serious breach in US-Israel relations”. Arad said no: ‎Whether the effort to kill the Iranian nuclear program succeeds or not, the US and ‎Israel would have to get closer following the conclusion of this effort. If prevention ‎succeeds a main issue of contention will go away, and “if prevention fails it would be ‎a major failure for American policy-standing”, in such case “the US and Israel will ‎have to work together to minimize the negative effects of nuclear Middle East”.‎


When it comes to the issue of Iran, the pre-post election issue is “an artificial issue”, ‎said Makovsky. Soon which issue of 2012 does matter? Pinkas suggests that 2012 and ‎the ten months following the US election until the next Israeli elections do matter: “in ‎the next 18 months nothing substantive on the Israel-Palestine peace process can ‎happen – there can be no progress”. In the panel I moderated today, Richard Haass ‎went even further in his comments. In his view, it isn’t just the next 18 months: “Iran ‎and Arab upheavals will dominate the Middle East agenda, and the peace process ‎with Israel will be a less dominant aspect of U.S. Middle East policy”, Haass said. He ‎also said that the American “era of dominating” the peace process is “ending”. The ‎burden will “fall on the shoulders of Israelis and Palestinians themselves”.‎