Once again the ‘P5+1’ and Iran find themselves on the cusp of a deadline in the negotiations (this one is for a framework agreement) but this time there’s no talk of an extension. After a year and a half of jaw-jawing, could this finally be it? A despairing Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister, is convinced the jig is up, telling Reuters “It seems quite probable it will happen, unfortunately.” Why such a Gloomy Gus? Surely Steinitz must have confidence the U.S. Congress will rush to the rescue and pass legislation that will tank the deal. Republicans still think they have a shot at rounding up enough Democrats in the Senate to pass a bill giving Congress and up or down vote on the Iran deal over a presidential veto. But Steinitz knows—like his boss Prime Mininster Benjamin Netanyahu—that this last hurrah by lawmakers who oppose the current deal will inevitably go up in smoke. They they will not be able to convince their colleagues to withstand the wrath of the rest of the world that would engulf Congress for denying a deal that’s so much in the global interest.
These Congressional opponents are also well aware of the negative geopolitical repercussions that would ensue—like the splintering of the sanctions regime against Iran for starters–and so have no intention of provoking a hostile reaction from the international community. Senator Bob Corker, who is the sponsor of the bill mentioned above, has wondered if our negotiating partners wouldn’t simply seize the initiative and conclude their own agreement with Iran if Congress’ intransigence pushed them over the edge. Israel would have its own backlash to face, as Kenneth Pollack spelled out at a Brookings Institute event a couple years ago:
“The Israelis have to very careful about how they handle this issue and they have to be very careful about it for exactly the reason that I started with: what happens if we don’t get the deal? If we don’t get the deal because the Israelis kill it and everyone else in the world, besides the Israelis and Saudis, believed it was a good deal, that’s Israel’s problem. That’s not Iran’s problem. You will see international opinion turn against Israel and potentially against the containment of Iran, and the Israelis get that and they can’t allow that to happen. By the same token, if we don’t get the deal for whatever reasons and afterwards it turns out that the Israelis were playing this very hard line position because they wanted us to go to war with Iran—wow–that would also be a killer for Israel’s relationship with the United States. The Israelis do not want to be in a position where they get blamed for an American war with Iran or they get seen as trying to push the United States into a war with Iran. The Israelis are very sophisticated about their own reputation here and about the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship; they don’t want that to happen either.”
The Israelis therefore can’t seriously oppose the agreement and what we’re seeing from them is a performance art. Sure Netanyahu is demanding standards for a deal that are impossible to meet but he has to because, to be in keeping with his untiring anti-Iran political persona, he can’t publicly throw in the towel. So to signal to Washington that he’s play-acting and not pushing for war he has purposely committed blunders that serve to undercut the anti-deal cause. Further, AIPAC and Republicans are taking their cues from Netanyahu and no greater evidence for this can be found than in Senator Tom Cotton’s loony letter to the Iranian leadership (which will make it that much easier for Democrats to safely side with the White House). As M.J Rosenberg notes, “47 senators are not going to undertake an initiative this serious on AIPAC’s #1 issue without the lobby’s approval.” For AIPAC and Republicans, Cotton was the perfect pick to pen the letter because now everyone will attribute the counterproductive act to the freshman senator’s inexperience and impulsiveness and no one will notice how this missive is just one more step in Netanyahu’s concentrated campaign to see the deal succeed.