Bibi the Bad Cop

Can Israel Prevent a Deal With Iran?

Bibi Netanyahu Obama UN Rouhani
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN General Assembly, October 1, 2013 (Adrees Latif / Courtesy Reuters)

Most of the world is applauding the thaw between the United States and Iran. Then there are the Arabs and Israelis. Their reaction is dread, and with good reason: neither trusts U.S. President Barack Obama to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon or from at least acquiring the capability to produce one. Israel, which has a wide base of political support in the United States, will try to stymie any nuclear deal it sees as too lenient -- but that won’t be easy.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered messages that few wanted to hear. He reminded the world that the Iranians have lied before, warned that they may well be lying still, and claimed that they have done nothing to earn credibility. He said that Iran should first be made to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency and UN resolutions, which it has defied for decades -- most notably by developing clandestine, unsafeguarded sites and by continuing the enrichment of uranium. Netanyahu is setting forth standards for a nuclear agreement that are far tougher than the Obama administration believes can be negotiated and, as a result, are not even being sought.

The hard part for Israel comes next, when the world’s leaders have returned home. The recent debate over Syria -- when the administration backed away from using force, Congress seemed on the verge of voting against the use of force, and opinion polls showed the public against any military involvement -- has seriously undermined the credibility of the U.S. military option. What will Israel’s approach be in the coming months, when Washington’s position -- whatever its rhetoric -- has moved from “all options are on the table” to a blind pursuit of diplomacy?

The first thing the Israelis will do is repeat, over and over again, their arguments against trusting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. They will remind U.S. and EU officials, journalists, and anyone who will listen that he is not a reformer but a regime stalwart who, as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, had the job of buying time for the nuclear weapons program.

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