Act of Congress

Israel, Iran, and the Republican Victory

Courtesy Reuters

The Republicans’ Senate victory offers Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu new hope for outmaneuvering President Barack Obama on Iran; in the coming weeks, he could use a Republican-led Congress to sabotage negotiations with the Islamic Republic on its nuclear program. But the victory would be short lived. By scuttling the talks, Netanyahu could empower Iran’s hardliners.

By now, it is clear that Israel’s current Iran strategy—bluffing war to push the world to ratchet up the economic siege on Iran—is no longer working. “Chickenshit-gate,” revelations that a senior Obama administration official had privately stated that Netanyahu does not have what it takes to take on Iran, leaves little doubt about that.

To be sure, that doesn’t mean that Israel’s strategy has accomplished nothing. For one, it was Israel that, in 1992–3, first turned the world’s focus toward Iran and its nuclear program. Under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Israel launched a campaign to depict Iran as a global threat because of its ideology and its nuclear program. At the time, the New York Times described the campaign as “perplexing,” since it had been Rabin and Peres who, during Iran-Contra only a few years earlier, had pushed the United States to talk to Iran, ignore Tehran’s venomous anti-Israeli rhetoric, and sell arms to the country.

Israel’s apparent aim was to sound alarm bells about Iran’s nuclear program and convince the world that the country was a global problem—not just an Israeli one. The ultimate goal was to either put Iran under permanent economic sanctions that would cripple its economy and undermine it as a regional player or to compel the United States to take military action against Iran. Or both. Ultimately, Israel partially succeeded. The United States intensified its focus on Iran, placed numerous crippling sanctions on the country, and threatened Tehran with military attack. 

If one accepts Israel’s assumptions about Iran—that the regime in Tehran is incapable of reforming, that

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