Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
Havana, March 31, 2015 --
America is right to choose peace with Iran over accommodation of Israel.
As negotiations on Iran's nuclear program drag on past a self-imposed deadline, tensions are high and naysayers are buzzing. For all the noise about obstacles to a deal, the real story has been happening quietly behind the scenes. Relations between America and Iran have been improving markedly, as shared interests become more and more obvious. Meanwhile, the deterioration in relations between America and Israel have been stunning. The negotiations have been a catalyst for both changes.
This catalyzing effect was highlighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent visit to America. His speech to an opposition-controlled U.S. Congress where he denounced the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran was an unprecedented slap in the face to his American benefactor. His recent declaration that he won't support creation of a Palestinian state is a direct challenge to official U.S. policy, and has led to an escalation in the war of words between the Israeli leader and the White House.
This shift in American interests away from Israel and toward Iran is monumental. For years, the tiny Jewish state has relied on its ethnic brethren in America to have its back. This is now unraveling as Israel's intransigence toward neighboring states and the Palestinian majority under its undemocratic rule make it more and more of an international pariah. And as demographic trends in Israel favor religious conservatives, the future will likely include governments with hard-line policies increasingly out of sync with the West.
Meanwhile, a de-facto military alliance between Iran and America has formed in Iraq. Iranian-backed militias are fighting the Islamic State on the ground, while their partners in a U.S.-led air coalition pound Islamic State forces from the sky. Leaders of both countries insist they are not coordinating military activities, but awareness of each others' actions makes informal cooperation unavoidable.
This shift from Israel to Iran is in America's long-term interests. Iran is a much larger country, and a historically powerful nation with a growing population. Its bizarro Islamic fundamentalist government has certainly earned America's ire for its past actions. But the current government is a historic aberration which won't last forever.
At the same time, the utility of America's special relationship with Israel has been waning since the end of the cold war. The tiny state's repressive internal policies and saber rattling toward Iran and other neighbors makes it increasingly a liability for America. It's clear what Israel gets out of its alliance with America: $3 billion in aid each year1 and diplomatic cover in the United Nations. What does America get in return?
To be sure, there's no faulting Israel for opposing a nuclear deal with Iran. Iran's crackpot leaders have previously threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and the country's nuclear program is obviously not motivated by peaceful goals, despite fig leafs suggesting otherwise. But ultimately, the alternative to an American deal with Iran is an American war with Iran. Such a war may be in Israel's interests, but it is not in America's. The simple truth is that the interests of the two countries have diverged.
Fortunately for America, as one alliance wanes, a new one shows promise. But continued improvement in relations between America and Iran is far from certain. Congressional Republicans are itching to undermine America's negotiations with Iran -- half out of spite for the Obama administration and half out of knee-jerk support for Israel. Christian fundamentalists in the party often support Israeli policy for dogmatic reasons.
A letter sent by 47 Republican Senators to Iran said any deal would end the day Obama leaves office. These are strong words, but it is unlikely they will be backed up with action. There is no guarantee that Republicans will capture the White House in 2016, and even if they do, it is far from certain that an incoming Republican president would choose to create a new crisis by actively undoing a deal -- especially when doing so could trigger a major war.
Of course, Republicans and Israelis aren't the only obstacles to peace. Even if they fail in sabotaging a deal, Iran's own hardliners could very well do so. As negotiations drag on, this risk is becoming increasingly acute. Those who love peace -- in America, Iran and even Israel -- had best hope that these obstructionists fail.
Related Web Columns:
Great Satan No More, June 3, 2014
Fire the Memory Sticks, September 28, 2010
Deal With It
The Unspeakable Exodus, June 22, 2010
They Don't Need Us, June 16, 2009
Abandoning a Sinking Ship, April 11, 2002
1. US Agency for International Development, Fiscal Year 2012 Total Foreign Assistance Profile, as posted March 31, 2015