Why Is Israel So Violently Opposed To Deal With Iran?

Why Is Israel So Violently Opposed To Deal With Iran?

This week’s deal with Iran is a triumph for President Obama’s foreign policy, and a huge victory for those who favor diplomacy over politics by other means. Of course, not everyone is overjoyed at the news. Republicans, who have been spending months trying to sabotage the negotiating process are, predictably, apoplectic (and, just as predictably, pretending history never happened). Saudi Arabia is less than thrilled. And, in a surprise twist, Israel’s Binyamin Netenyahu didn’t even need to read the 159 page text of the deal to declare it a no good, very bad thing.


Israel’s opposition to the deal is rather less than unexpected. Netanyahu has been arguing against the deal for years, and he’s been willing to employ some rather underhanded tactics to prevent the deal from happening. He gave an infamous speech to the US Congress, back in February, where he blustered and bloviated against the ongoing negotiations. This arguably backfired in the short term, and seems to have had no impact on either the negotiations or the landmark deal that was eventually reached. Way back in 2012, Netanyahu made claims about Iranian nuclear capabilities that were directly contradicted by Mossad intelligence. But Netanyahu failed. The deal with Iran that he raged against is now a reality and, as a result, he is escalating his rhetoric to ridiculous levels:

“’Iran’s growing aggression is several times more dangerous than that of IS, which is dangerous enough,’ Netanyahu told a memorial ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, marking 111 years since the death of Theodor Herzl, the visionary forefather of modern Zionism. ‘And this aggression, which aims to reach every corner of the world, has the ultimate true aim of taking over the world,’ he added. Although Shiite Iranians and the Sunni Islamic State group have been fighting each other, they share the common goal of destroying Western values, said Netanyahu, who often equates the Islamic State to Iran, as well as to Palestinian militant groups. ‘The radical Shiite camp under Iranian leadership on one side, and the Sunni spearhead in the form of the Islamic State group on the other, are applying cruel terror with shocking zeal and carrying out a war to the death among themselves,’ he said. “Meanwhile, they are united in their hostility to the West and willingly trample on the achievements of freedom and progress.’”

Worse still, Netanyahu is now hinting that Israel will take matters into its own hands, and has not ruled out a military strike against Iran:

“’Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran, and Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran because Iran continues to seek our destruction,’ Netanyahu told reporters before a meeting of his security cabinet. ‘We will always defend ourselves.’ Netanyahu called the nuclear deal a ‘historic mistake,’ and the accord drew strong criticism from across the Israeli political spectrum. ‘We did commit to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands,’ Netanyahu said earlier on Tuesday, even before the agreement was officially announced.

Both of these statements are as silly as they are inflammatory. Netanyahu may speak of military strikes but, were Israel to actually carry out strikes against Iran, he would be ignoring a treaty that is supported not just by Iran and the US, but by Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany. As isolated as Israel already is, it would be positively idiotic to alienate most of the world’s major powers in one fell swoop. At the same time, the notion that Iran wants to “take over the world” is rank nonsense. Iran wants the removal of the sanctions that have crippled its economy. It wants to be able to participate on the world stage. None of those are particularly objectionable things, despite Iran being no friend of Israel. And, as a sidenote, does anyone really think that, if Iran had nuclear weapons, they would actually dare to initiate a war with Israel? The result would likely be the end of Iran as a country. Iran may be no friend of Israel, but it is not stupid. We need to look past the bluster of Netanyahu’s rhetoric and try to find the true motivation for Israel’s opposition to this deal.

Israel’s opposition to the deal has everything to do with maintaining the delicate balance of power in the Middle East. And that has been Israel’s modus operandi on most issues pertaining to security and foreign policy: preserve the status quo at all costs. In reality, this means playing groups against each other. Israel supports rebels in Syria because the Syrian government enjoys the support of the Iranian backed Hezbollah. They ally themselves with Egypt because Egypt’s government is opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, who are allied with Hamas.  And they maintain unofficial ties with Saudi Arabia, because its Sunni leaders provide a counter-balance to the Shiite Iran. It’s a balancing act that hasn’t always worked. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Israel sought to undermine Yasir Arafat’s Fatah Party by encouraging the opposition that eventually became Hamas. Israel is a grand master of blowback.

Israel is playing the same game now. This deal will mean a resurgent Iranian economy. It will make Iran far more of a player in the region. And, yes, it will upset the delicate balance of power in the region. And that’s a good thing. Our good friends in Saudi Arabia have too long dominated the region, and their influence has by no means been for the best. Certainly there are many troubling things about Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. Still, as a society, it has far more potential for modernization than does the deeply conservative Saudi Arabia. Recall that Iran was well on its way towards becoming a modern, democratic nation before its leader was overthrown in a CIA sponsored coup in 1953. That coup resulted in 26 years of repression under the Shah which, in turn resulted in the theocracy that Iran is today. That unfortunate story can be reversed, and this week’s historic deal could signal the beginnings of that reversal. But that reversal would upend the status quo that Israel and Netanyahu so desperately cling to. And so they continue to rail against the deal and call for their Republican allies in Congress to sabotage it.

But here’s the thing: as on most other issues, Israel is increasingly isolated. Yes, Republican politicians are ranting and raging. And yes, Saudi Arabia is displeased (though their rhetoric is notably more measured than that of Netanyahu). But beyond these allies, Israel doesn’t have much. Can Netanyahu’s petulant words change the minds of Russia and China, France and Germany? I think not. The deal with Iran will come to fruition. Israel’s position will not prevail. And the landscape of the region will, fundamentally, change. Cry though Netanyahu may, this will be the best possible outcome.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons

Akira Watts failed to graduate with a B.A. in philosophy from Amherst College and now does an assortment of IT related things. He has been writing a nebulously plotted literary choose-your-own-adventure work for the past five years. He lives in Santa Fe, NM with a small fish and a cat the size of a yeti. Before joining the team at Reverb Press, Akira was a frequent contributor at Truthout.org READ MORE BY AKIRA.

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Akira Watts failed to graduate with a B.A. in philosophy from Amherst College and now does an assortment of IT related things. He has been writing a nebulously plotted literary choose-your-own-adventure work for the past five years. He lives in Santa Fe, NM with a small fish and a cat the size of a yeti. Before joining the team at Reverb Press, Akira was a frequent contributor at Truthout.org READ MORE BY AKIRA.

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App