July 21, 2019

If the Iran deal fails, II

The American Jewish establishment has hitched its fate to a questionable strategy of unbending opposition to the Iran deal. That decision will exact a high price if it fails, and perhaps an even greater one if it succeeds.

I’m for the Iran deal. No, it’s not great. Secretary of State John Kerry should have convinced our allies to extend the interim agreement and pressured the Iranians with the possibility of facing future hostility from Presidents Clinton or Bush — or Trump.  But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you make peace with the diplomats you have, not the diplomats you wish for. The deal is the deal.  Our allies are behind it. We need to accept it and focus on strengthening our position vis-à-vis Iran in every way possible, including increased aid to Israel.  A flawed deal will make America and Israel safer than a failed deal.

That’s my take. But even though I am for the deal, I fully respect the opinions of people who have come to another conclusion — that’s why you can turn the page of this newspaper or scroll our website and find columnists who disagree with me. The only honest approach to such a life-and-death issue is to understand that smart people with a great deal at stake disagree, and neither side has a lock on the truth.

So, from the very beginning, the correct path for American Jewish groups would have been to find ways America and Israel could hedge against the deal’s weaknesses and buttress its strengths. The vast majority of American Jews would have united around this strategy.

Instead, national Jewish groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and local ones like the Boston, Miami and Los Angeles Jewish Federations called on their members to defeat the deal, with no discernible debate among their members. That has divided the community and left us fractured and weak when we needed to be united and strong. And it has left us, as a community, to face an uncertain and possibly bitter future.

If the deal succeeds, I see three possible ramifications of the decision to fight, rather than fix, the deal. The first is that Iran gets its billions, sponsors terror and somehow tries to build a nuke anyway. In that scenario, the Jewish opponents will look prescient, and they’ll get to say, “We told you so.” There may be war — but with far more intel, and with our allies united against an enemy who blew its last chance.

When people tell you such an attack can be quick and surgical, ask them what their predictions were for the Iraq war.

The second is that the deal sticks, and Israel and the administration begin a series of strategic moves: a NATO-like defense agreement, major weapons and aid transfers, and conciliatory statements about how this was a just a family tiff and now we’re all BFFs.

The third possibility is that there will be a nasty break in relations between Washington and Jerusalem. In this scenario, the Jewish organizations that opposed the deal will be exposed as weak. The defeat will tarnish their brand among Jews, as well. I can understand why AIPAC is willing to take that risk — it exists to fight political battles. Federations will have more explaining to do because  their power, time and donors’ money is supposed to be spent helping the needy and strengthening our communities, not dividing them.

Now, what if the deal is defeated?

I see two possibilities:

The first is that the nations of the world and Iran, under unilateral U.S. pressure and the threat of war, will return to the negotiating table and forge a better deal. In that case, Israel and Jews will look like saviors for being the lone voice in the wilderness. This would be wonderful. It is the dream of the deal’s opponents — but not one has presented any evidence that it is anything other than wishful thinking.

There is far more evidence for a second scenario:

“If the U.S. rejects the agreement,” former Mossad head Efraim Halevy wrote this week in Haaretz, “it will fall apart. This means Iran will be free to renew its nuclear activities … the international sanctions regime will collapse. The U.S. will be the only country to maintain its sanctions, while Russia and China will rush to renew arms sales to Tehran, with Moscow helping the Islamic Republic develop its missile arsenal, as it has done in the past. This is the immediate and tangible price to pay for the failure of the deal.”

If, indeed, Iran calculates it is better off going quickly for a bomb, the U.S. will be forced to attack. When people tell you such an attack can be quick and surgical, ask them what their predictions were for the Iraq war. No, we will be in a war that most military experts say will be deadly, costly and chock-full of nasty, unforeseen consequences.

Even this scenario shouldn’t stop those Jews who believe they must organize against the deal from doing so. But let’s be clear: If war results, the American public will view the intensive opposition by Israel and its supporters as having been instrumental to the collapse of a deal that may have worked, or not, but was never given a chance.

Frankly, I don’t know what all this means for the future of American Jewry and U.S.-Israel relations, and I doubt anyone else does either.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.