January 17, 2019

On Iran, we must listen more carefully to Obama’s promise

For years now, President Barack Obama and his representatives have passionately championed this one promise to the pro-Israel community: We will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Period.

We heard it again on Monday morning, when U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power proudly repeated the commitment in front of 16,000 Israel supporters on Day 2 of the AIPAC policy conference. And once again, the audience ate it up.

But there's a major problem with President Obama's serial promise, no matter how loudly and proudly it's declared. And now that we are at ground zero of a final agreement, I sense that, more and more, the pro-Israel community is waking up to this crucial caveat.

The caveat is at the heart of the disagreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama: Bibi wants to stop Iran from having the capability to build a nuclear weapon, while Obama promises only that he won't let Iran obtain the bomb itself. This means that Obama is ready to tolerate much of the machinery to build the weapon, as long as Iran doesn't take the final step to producing it.

In other words, Obama would allow Iran to be virtually on the one-yard line of building a nuclear bomb, in the hope that proper verification and other incentives would keep them there. But as we know from the last Super Bowl, it takes plenty of luck and even a miracle to stop a wily team from going over the one-yard line.

Can you understand Israel's nervousness?

Bibi has been championing his own view for years, as he did again at AIPAC Mondaymorning. But somehow, we keep glossing over the uncomfortable reality that Bibi and Obama have starkly different goals when it comes to Iran. It's a lot worse than the comfortable narrative we're used to hearing when friends disagree: “They have the same goals, but disagree only on how to get there.”

Well, unfortunately, almost but not quite in this case. The disagreement between Bibi and Obama is as serious and fundamental as it gets, which is maybe why so many people are on edge this year at AIPAC. And with negotiations with Iran going at full speed, it's now coming to a head.

So, as you follow the events in Washington this week, as you listen to Bibi's speeches and the White House's statements, and as you listen to diplomatic niceties about the unshakable bond between Israel and America, keep a close eye on those different goals.

One thing we know for sure: When you hear a politician make a promise, it's always good to read the fine print.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.