In the wake of the Obama administration’s embrace of a nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s message to Israel has been crystal clear: shut up. The Washington Post reported that President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he’d like him to tone down the strident criticism of an agreement that he has rightly characterized as a “historic mistake” that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and may well bring it closer to a bomb rather than preventing it from accomplishing that goal. But the messages from other sources have been a good deal less polite. Anonymous “senior administration officials” told Israeli reporters that the White House considers the Israeli government’s outrage at having its concerns ignored to be “weak” and dismissed the possibility that Congress would attempt to restrain the president’s rush toward a détente with Iran out of concern for the Jewish state’s safety. The administration’s cheering section in the press has been no less blunt about its disdain for Israel’s fear that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is being attempted.
Part of this stems from Obama’s hubris. He has always believed in the magic of his personality and appeal and from the start of his first term signaled that he wanted to improve relations with Iran while also demonstrating his belief that the U.S. and Israel had become too close under his predecessor. The impatience he is showing about Israel’s complaints is rooted in anger over the fact that Netanyahu apparently does not trust him, something he appears to consider an act of lèse-majesté. Whether or not the reports out of Kuwait today about the president hoping to visit Iran in 2014 are true, the White House considers Israeli doubts about the president’s vision of a new Middle East to be something of a personal slight.
But if Obama is genuinely interested in making his deal with Iran work rather than it being just one more example of how the ayatollahs have hoodwinked the West, he shouldn’t be discouraging Netanyahu from speaking up. If there is any real hope that this deal that tacitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium and leaves in place the infrastructure for making a bomb will actually succeed, it will stem from an Iranian belief that Israel’s rhetoric about using force are credible rather than empty threats. Having demonstrated that he has little interest in putting Tehran’s feet to the fire, there is nothing preventing Iran from reneging on even this weak deal other than the notion that if Obama is not proved right, Israel will strike.
The problem with the current deal is not just that it does nothing to roll back all the progress Iran has made toward a bomb in Obama’s five years in office and that it lengthens the all-important breakout time for them to convert their stockpile of fuel to weapons-grade material by only a few weeks at best. The real flaw here is that by beginning the process of unraveling the sanctions that the administration belatedly and reluctantly imposed on Iran the president may have sent a signal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that he needn’t worry any more about the United States. The eagerness with which Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have bought into the dubious notion that Iran is entering into a period of genuine reform even while the regime continues to fund terrorism, make mischief in Syria, and spew anti-Semitism may have convinced the Islamist regime that they are home free. Their record of contempt for the West and deceptive diplomacy lengthens the already long odds that Obama’s deal is merely another delaying action on the regime’s part.
But so long as Israel and Saudi Arabia are demonstrating that they are not cowed by Obama’s dictates, Khamenei and his underlings must consider the possibility that their prevarications will backfire. Barack Obama and John Kerry may seem easy marks for the ayatollahs, but while the Israelis and their unlikely Arab allies are still able to strike, Khamenei has to consider that not everyone is deceived by his latest gambit.
Of course, Israel is doing more than merely playing the bad cop to Obama’s foolish cop. Netanyahu is right to assert that Israel can and must defend its own security and that it won’t be placed in peril merely to assuage Obama’s delusions of diplomatic grandeur. But so long as he is not silent, the Iranians must know there might be a terrible price to pay for their lies. Rather than trying to shut the Israeli up, the president and his various minions should be praying that Netanyahu’s warnings are being heard loud and clear in Tehran.