5/9/18 Trump Exits from Agreement- What does it Means for Israel
There is no doubt that US President Donald J. Trump is a good friend of Israel. His policy shows that he cares about Israel and wishes it well. Though there is also a well-worn saying: “Beware of well-meaning friends”.
President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA agreement with Iran and Israelis applauded. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the bold decision. On the streets of Tel Aviv most people approved, stating they agreed with what Trump had said, the Iranians can only be persuaded to negotiate by force, whether economic or kinetic.
Regarding Trump’s decision, Michael Oren, Minister-without-portfolio in the Prime Minister’s office and former Israeli Ambassador to Washington tweeted: “An historic day for Israel and the Jewish people. A deadly threat has been lifted.”
The problem with Oren’s statement, as well as the many other supportive remarks made with respect to Trump’s directive for withdrawal (including comments offered by Israeli opposition parties) is that whatever the eventual merits of the Trump decision — it does not remove the threat; it removes the admittedly temporary solution put in place by the previous administration.
Arguments have been going back-and-forth for some time, attempting to speculate Trump’s planned action on the Iran deal. His supporters in Israel asserted he is a brilliant negotiator, trying to get the Europeans on board to push for fixes in the JCPOA agreement; his detractors contended Trump has no idea what he is doing and that he will likely take the first steps to ending the Iranian agreement. Trump, it turns out, was not interested in any short-term fixes. He wanted out of the agreement, and today, now that he has removed the moderates like General H.R. McMaster, whom Trump replaced with Ambassador Bolton; and Sec of State Tillerson, whom he replaced with Secretary of State Michael “Mike” Pompeo, there is nobody to tell him to wait … that walking away from JCPOA at this moment would not be wise. A former military officer whose specialty is Risk Management said this morning: “This could be a successful strategy, but it’s extremely risky.”
For the past weeks, I have repeatedly questioned — What is “Plan B,” if Trump indeed pulls out of the agreement. I never got an answer, neither from Washington, nor from Jerusalem. Instead, both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu seem to share a dream — i.e. that renewed sanctions will so irreparably cripple the regime in Iran that the Iranian people will rise up and overthrow the government that rules them.
The only problem with that scenario is a little recent history … enter: Syria. When the Syrian people rose up and demanded more freedom from their President Bashar al-Assad, he started shooting them, and has not stopped 7 years later — and no one cares. The Iranian people have learned the lesson of Syria, and I doubt they are willing to sacrifice their lives on the altar of freedom.
Shortly after President Trump completed his speech, the sound of military aircraft could be heard over Tel Aviv (a rarity in the middle of the night). This came as no surprise, after the warnings issued on Saturday night that the Iranians were planning an attack on a target in Israel. Tonight, the IDF warned they had observed unusual activity by Iranian forces in Syria and ordered shelters in the Golan Heights (near the Syrian border) be opened a prepared for use.
A few minutes after the sound of jets had been heard in Tel Aviv, there were reports of explosions outside Damascus, along with the announcement by the Syrians that Israel had attacked targets there. Those targets are thought to be Iranian missile sites were readying a strike on Israel. The Israeli government claims the nuclear deal is partially responsible for Iran’s involvement in Syria, as there can be no doubt that the return of the billions of dollars of Iranian money, triggered by the signing of the agreement, enabled Iran to spend more on their revolutionary activities outside the country. Of course, it was the American attack on Iraq, then Iran’s foe, that gave Iran the strategic freedom to act in Syria and beyond.
While participating in the Spin Room on i24News hours, shortly before the announcement, the host Ami Kaufman asked whether Netanyahu deserves credit for getting the nuclear deal canceled. The answer is that clearly he does. Netanyahu has relentlessly attacked the Iran deal from the beginning. In President Trump he found someone who would listen. However, with the credit, comes responsibility, in the event of failure.
At the moment, the hope is that crippling economic sanctions will force the Iranians to return to the bargaining table and agree to a much more comprehensive agreement; an agreement that would change the very nature of their revolutionary regime. Almost all of Israel is united in that hope. Former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro has been saying for the last few weeks that Trump was going to exit the agreement and that we must prepare for the next step. Shapiro spoke about the need for new pressure on Iran, but has repeatedly stated that thanks to the Obama administration, Israel also possesses a military option to deal with the threat of an Iranian nuclear program. A barista in Tel Aviv summarized the concern of many this morning — “President Trump gave a great speech, but it might be us who end up fighting a war.” The hope of most Israelis is that there will be a better outcome.