For Netanyahu, vindication and new risk after Trump’s Iran decision

By | May 9, 2018

The New York Times reports:

Netanyahu waged an Ahab-like struggle against the nuclear pact from before its inception during the Obama administration. Now, President Trump has adopted his point of view — not only about the agreement’s flaws but also about Israeli evidence that Mr. Trump said “conclusively” showed Iran had lied when entering into it. Mr. Trump also aligned with Israel on the need to increase pressure on Iran in hopes of curtailing its expansionism in the Middle East.

“For the first time, Bibi’s doctrine is going to be tested on a much wider scale,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a Haaretz columnist and author of a well-received new Netanyahu biography titled “Bibi,” the prime minister’s nickname.

Being seen as fiercely taking on Israel’s most fearsome adversary while standing shoulder to shoulder with its most critical ally can only help Mr. Netanyahu politically as he awaits a likely indictment in a sprawling corruption investigation. He is counting on being seen as indispensable to Israel’s national security.

Yet Mr. Trump’s decision also creates a new set of risks for Mr. Netanyahu and for Israel. After more than a decade without a major war, the country now faces threats from almost every direction.

Even Mr. Netanyahu’s most ardent detractors treat his obsession with the strategic threat posed by Iran as a sincere one.

“His worldview is very clear,” said Ari Shavit, an Israeli journalist who has long covered Mr. Netanyahu. “Iran is Nazi Germany. Israel is England. He is Churchill and America is America. His main goal has been to persuade Roosevelt to get into a conflict that will crush Iran. It didn’t work with Obama. But with President Trump he sees a golden opportunity.”

Mr. Shavit added that Mr. Netanyahu sees Iran as both dangerous and fragile, like the weakening Soviet Union that Ronald Reagan confronted, and wishes for a similar American approach to it: very assertive American diplomacy and sanctions that exploit Iran’s weakness to eliminate its danger.

In that dream scenario, Iran’s economy melts down under stiffened sanctions and the government follows.

While cheering Mr. Trump’s decision, Israel could face some undesirable outcomes as a result of it.

If Britain, Germany, France and perhaps Russia and China respond by backing up the nuclear deal and giving Iran added incentives to stick with it, the United States could wind up having squandered its leverage. Israel would have gained nothing and a wedge could be driven between the United States and some of its closest European allies.

Alternatively, if Iran reacts by abandoning the agreement and restarting its nuclear program, it will be up to the United States and its allies to stop Iran — “or the nuclear deal will have been proven to have been the best deal available, and relying on Trump to be a very stupid move,” Mr. Pfeffer said. [Continue reading…]

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