Iranian President Hassan Rouhani capped off his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on a note of guarded optimism. “Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.” Rouhani won’t have to hope too hard because there is political will aplenty within the White House. A breakthrough deal with Iran is the Obama administration’s ticket to the balmy Pacific—a geopolitical dream vacation for the United States from a Middle East that has burned us for far too long. To score that grand prize, President Obama will assuredly refrain from being led astray by hawks who know they can’t win against this warming of ties but who will nevertheless erect what roadblocks they can. Leading this countercharge to Rouhani’s “charm offensive” is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli premier’s rallying will make a garish display but it will come to nothing as Israel has no military option, the U.S. knows this, and hence Netanyahu has no way of spooking Washington with visions of errant Israeli jets and bombed-out nuclear facilities. Yet, in his capacity as standard-bearer for U.S. hawks, Netanyahu can help Congress to drag out the fragile diplomacy for as long as possible. That’s why Bibi is declaiming a set of impossible demands for Iran–like the complete dismantlement of their civilian nuclear program—so congressmen who thrive off of confrontation with Iran will adopt them as part of their own hardline stance and, if challenged for their obstructionism, justify it out of concern for Israel’s unease. Further, it’s a long shot but Bibi could be counting on delaying a resolution so long that Supreme Leader Khameini, seeing that the Americans just aren’t being sincere, terminates Rouhani’s negotiations.
At the end of the day, however, I’d say—as I’ve been saying—that Netanyahu is resigned to a deal but is issuing these ridiculous demands because he’s signaling that he doesn’t want the U.S. and Iran to get any closer afterwards. The administration may not be seeking a total rapprochement but even if the U.S. wanted to head in that direction, Israel would be helpless to stop it. Again, Israel won’t be attacking Iran. Before he retired in February 2011, Israeli General Gabi Ashkenazi admitted to U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that all talk otherwise was “empty words” because “Israel has no military option.” So the U.S. doesn’t have to sweat over ever having to strike Iran first to head off Israel going rogue and that means Iran will be spared since, according to former CIA director Michael Hayden, the U.S. had already sworn off striking anyway during the George W Bush administration.
“When we talked about this in the government,” Hayden said, “the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent–an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.” Hayden added that the Bush administration determined that, unless the U.S. was contemplating the occupation of Iran, a limited bombing campaign was going to be counterproductive. And to drive home Gen. Ashkenazi’s point about Israel’s incapacity, here’s an edifying snippet from the same piece about Hayden’s revelation:
“Hayden then said he didn’t believe the Israelis could or even would strike Iran–that only the United States has the capability to do it–but either way, it’s still a bad idea. “The Israelis aren’t going to [attack Iran] … they can’t do it, it’s beyond their capacity. They only have the ability to make this [problem of Iran’s nuclear program] worse. We can do a lot better,” he said. “Just look at the physics, the fact that this cannot be done in a raid, this has to be done in a campaign, the fact that neither we nor they know where this stuff is. [The Israelis] can’t do it, but we can.“
So why is Netanyahu so desperate that he feels he needs to convince others that he might be crazy enough to launch an attack which can only make things worse and, as Israeli General Shlomo Gazit fears, could possibly “lead to the liquidation of Israel”? It’s not the first time an Israeli Prime Minister verged on going berserk. What Netanyahu is doing today is reminiscent of Ariel Sharon blowing a gasket over the U.S. reaching out to Arab states to combat al-Qaeda. Sharon reacted as he did because, as Robert Grenier explained, he “was seized of the guilty knowledge that it was his and Israel’s continuing repression and occupation of Palestinian lands which lay near the heart of Al Qaeda’s appeal for Muslims.” Likewise, a decade later, Netanyahu is also hip to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generates raging anti-Americanism in the Arab/Muslim world–a correlation known as linkage.
Linkage has been recognized repeatedly by top ranking U.S. officials and most recently by General James Mattis, who told the Aspen Institute’s annual Security Forum that he “paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.” This was no epiphany for Mattis, who back in March 2011 testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “I believe the only reliable path to lasting peace in this region is a viable two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. This issue is one of many that is exploited by our adversaries in the region, and is used as a recruiting tool for extremist groups.” Lasting peace in the region is what the Obama administration sorely needs before it can catch rays in the Pacific and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be the coveted silver bullet.
Netanyahu knows Washington wants to pack (most of) their bags and so he wants to charge as steep an exit fee as he can. The Prime Minister’s gibberings are his attempts at price gouging and turning linkage to Israel’s benefit. How much is this miracle elixir worth to you, Uncle Sam? Cripple Iran to our satisfaction first and we might have ourselves a deal. Obama would be a fool to accept and, unfortunately for Bibi, he won’t. The president will take any Iran in exchange for Palestine deal and reverse it.