Israel Pulse

US security guarantees can reassure Israeli public on Iran

Article Summary
American security guarantees can protect Israel from an Iranian nuclear threat, reassuring the Israeli public and opening the way to meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians.

More than 20 years after former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin repeatedly explained how important it was to end the Arab-Israeli conflict before Iran would finish the development of its nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also recognized the linkage of the nuclear threat and the Palestinian problem.

In fact, for many years Netanyahu derisively rejected any attempt to hint at a linkage between the two, but in a speech he delivered this week (Dec. 8) to the Saban Forum, the prime minister said, “Our best efforts to reach Palestinian-Israeli peace will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs.” Netanyahu continued to explain that “a nuclear-armed Iran would give even greater backing to the radical and terrorist elements in the region. It would undermine the chances of arriving at a negotiated peace.” The prime minister even warned that a nuclear Iran could undermine the peace deals Israel has with two of its neighbors — Egypt and Jordan.

Netanyahu made the same linkage as Rabin, but in the reverse direction. Rabin, who was assassinated because of his insistence on the concept of ending the conflict with the Palestinians, worded Bibi's [Netanyahu's] message differently. In essence, Rabin’s message today would be, “Our greatest efforts to prevent Iran from creating nuclear bombs will come to naught if we do not achieve Palestinian-Israeli peace. The failure of negotiations, the settlement policy, the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority and a violent intifada will strengthen radical elements and terror agents in the region, and will also undermine the peace deals we already achieved with two of our neighbors — Egypt and Jordan.”

Netanyahu also enlisted his 'Iranian linkage first' in his recent talks with the American administration regarding the negotiations held by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, or P5+1, with Iran. He contends that in the absence of absolute security, i.e., a nuclear guarantee that Iran will fulfill all its commitments with regard to nuclear weapons, he will not be able to convince the Israeli public to take risks on behalf of peace with the Palestinians. Many experts on Iran say that there is some justification for Netanyahu’s skepticism regarding the agreement taking shape with the Iranians, and regarding the odds that the Iranians will actually honor their signed agreements. A high-level diplomat who has experienced close contacts with Iran, described to me the dubious norms employed by the Iranians with regard to honoring agreements.

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The only way out of this imbroglio lies in obtaining firm American security guarantees that would lessen the chances of Iran attacking Israel. President Barack Obama and Congress need to re-examine the idea of the defense agreement with Israel, termed “strategic umbrella.” They must make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would be viewed as an attack against the United States, and injury of Israeli citizens would be considered equivalent to injury of American citizens. This is not a strategic-diplomatic revolution:

  1. The United States was the country that extricated Israel from its distress in the Yom Kippur War (1973) via the US airlift of planes, helicopters, ammunition and spare parts;

  2. In the course of the First Gulf War (1991), the United States placed American anti-missile Patriot batteries on Israeli territory;

  3. In the wake of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt (1979), in which the American administration was an active player, a peacekeeping force was established between the two countries, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), half-comprised of American soldiers;

  4. The CIA fulfilled a key role in the implementation and supervision of the Wye River Accord (1998) between Israel and the PLO;

  5. In the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza in the summer of 2008, the United States and Israel signed a security-intelligence Memorandum of Understanding (Regarding Prevention of the Supply of Arms and Related Materiel to Terrorist Groups) — i.e., a joint effort to prevent weapons smuggling from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

  6. From as far back as the Cold War, Israel and the United States have enjoyed close cooperation in the intelligence sphere; today, the focus is mainly the war on global terror. Using the hotline connecting the Pentagon and the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Israel coordinates most of its strategic military operations with the United States. The armies of the two countries frequently carry out joint training exercises, and working groups meet regularly to discuss a gamut of joint strategic issues.

  7. Israel and the United States jointly develop military resources and Israel receives American assistance in developing Israeli weapons, such as the Merkava tank and development of the Arrow missile system. The United States is committed to preserving Israel’s military-technological advantage. The United States sells Israel a gamut of weapons and is in coordination with Israel’s weapon reserves and an advanced storage of weapons supply of emergency. Several times, the United States froze weapons sales to countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, so as not to breach the “strategic balance” with Israel.

Until today Israel benefited from former President Richard Nixon's founding decision in 1969 to acknowledge Israel’s nuclear option and to stand by it, in relation to its ambiguity issue. It was reported in recent years that the United States has reconsidered its policy on the issue a number of times. Obama would need a good reason to release Israel from his vision of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, a vision which has earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Obama rejects this initiative so as not to disrupt US Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to turn at last the ''peace process'' into a peace agreement.

In 2009, then-President Shimon Peres qualified Israel’s relationship with the United States as ''Israel’s most valuable moral and strategic asset.'' Obama, on the other hand, qualifies the peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors as the United States' most important moral and strategic asset. Actually, Netanyahu also said that that real, sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “a strategic goal of the state of Israel and of my government.”

The need to choose between an alliance with the strongest power in the world on the nuclear issue and some extra ''settlement grains'' could assist him in achieving this goal.

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Found in: yitzhak rabin, secretary of state john kerry, peace process, israeli foreign policy, israeli-palestinian conflict, israel-us relations, benjamin netanyahu, barack obama

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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