Israeili Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Reuters/Abir Sultan)
It remains to be seen whether or not the United States, along with the rest of the P5+1, can reach an agreement with Iran. Already, though, the prospect of an accord has struck terror into the hearts of Israel’s leadership, various US hawks and neoconservatives, and not a few right-wing commentators, members of Congress and editorial boards.
Most rabid—shockingly so, really—is the commentary in Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard by Lee Smith. Smith, an editor at The Weekly Standard and a visiting fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, calls Iran’s leaders a “gang of obscurantist thugs, anti-Semites, rapists, torturers, and murderers,” and then goes on to wish fondly that the United States had people like that. “If only,” writes Smith, “we had such hardliners as our moderates fear, hardliners intent on protecting and defending the United States from the depredations of moderates such as Iran’s.” According to Smith, the problem with Iran is that a vast conspiracy of ‘Western elites” is seeking deliberately to obscure the fact that Iran is run by extremists and fanatics, and he suggests that what he calls “Rouhani Fever”—that is, the belief that the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, might actually be a moderate who wants a deal with the United States—is part of “an informal campaign managed by a cadre of Western elites who, because they have anointed themselves stewards of peace, [are lying] to their own societies.”
But Smith is just reflecting the views expressed in the UN General Assembly speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who spend nearly the entirety of his address warning that Rouhani is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whose moderation is part of a dangerous deception.
Ilan Berman, writing in the extreme-right National Review, echoes Smith in another commentary, comparing Rouhani—“Iran’s new, ostensibly moderate president,” he says—to Lucy in the Peanuts comic, who every year yanks the football away from Charlie Brown, who goes tumbling. And he adds:
But for all those keeping score at home, last week’s events should be a useful reminder that, just like Lucy with the football, Iran’s regime can be expected to pull the rug out from under our feet when the opportunity arises. The only question is: Why do we, like Charlie Brown, perennially take the bait?
Never mind that nearly everyone who’s observed Rouhani, or talked to him—including President Obama—seem to believe that the new president reflects a political consensus inside Iran that a deal can be struck, especially if the United States is willing to accept Iran’s basic right to enrich uranium, on its own soil, under appropriate international supervision. For the hawks, including Netanyahu, that’s not good enough, since they’re demanding the complete dismantling of Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure, the handing over of all of its enriched uranium—none of which is anywhere close to the level of enrichment needed to make a bomb—and the closing of all of Iran’s research facilities.
Elliott Abrams, the perennial neoconservative who served as a top official in the George W. Bush administration, worries about all this in a piece for the Council on Foreign Relations called “Bibi the Bad Cop: Can Israel Prevent A Deal with Iran?” Says Abrams, outlining the terms of a deal that Iran would never, ever accept, says:
In this sense, Israel will be forced to be the bad cop, and to enlist other bad cops in Europe and in the U.S. Congress. If Israel had its way, Iran would have to fully account for its past (secret) work on a warhead, stop its centrifuges, stop enriching uranium and ship its existing stockpiles out of the country, prove it has no alternate route to nuclear weapons through plutonium work at the Arak facility, dismantle the underground site at Fordow, and cease the conversion of first-generation centrifuges to more efficient second-generation ones.
And—even though most people, including Iran’s leaders, believe that Israel no longer has leverage to exercise its military option—Abrams adds, menacingly:
Israel does retain one option for stymying the negotiations if they appear to be heading for what Israelis would view as a bad deal, one that would allow Iran to escape sanctions and creep closer to a bomb. That is for Israel to attack Iranian nuclear sites.
But what Abrams and other neocons really fear is that Rouhani will be able to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel:
The Israelis fear [that] the bad cop wants to see the criminals jailed, and the good cop is open to a sweet plea bargain. If that’s what the Iranians get, they will sit back and smile while the United States and Israel end up in a bitter argument.
A retired Israeli general told The New York Times that Netanyahu is terrified that he might be outflanked by a US-Iran deal that he opposes:
“He’s cornered—is he going to spoil the international celebration and say, ‘I think it’s not a good enough deal so I’m going to use the military option?’” asked Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli brigadier general who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “If there is a good deal, it’s a good deal for him as well. If there is no deal, he can go it alone, but if there is a bad deal, what can he do? He’s trapped. That’s his nightmare.”
But, by defining anything that Iran might actually accept as a “bad deal,” Israel and the neoconservatives are writing themselves out of the picture. For the first time in memory, it looks like the Israelis and the Israel lobby are going to lose, and lose big.
Ari Berman explains the GOP’s Southern problem.