It is a measure of how little respect the Obama administration commands that the best hope for heading off a nuclear-armed Iran may be the Israeli-Saudi-French axis. Unfortunately, the world’s sole superpower seems bent on coming up with excuses (including a flimsy interim deal) not to act. As Aaron David Miller is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “When the U.S. and Israel are at fundamental odds, it weakens U.S. power in the region and sends very bad signals to America’s other allies. . . . Israel has more in common now with Saudi Arabia.”
The same might be true of Israel and France. Israel gave a hero’s welcome to the French President François Hollande over the weekend. Unlike President Obama, Hollande spoke to the Knesset, promising not to allow Iran to get the bomb. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells me, “Hollande appears genuinely determined to prevent the West from entering into a deal that would allow Iran to maintain some of the more dangerous components of its illicit nuclear program. As a result, the Iranians are already warning that the next round of talks in Geneva may be ‘difficult.’” This is all the more remarkable insofar as the French are very vocal about their objections to Israel’s settlements. “In other words, France’s opposition to the West’s apparent willingness to enter into a bad deal with Iran stems from its broader concerns about Tehran’s threat to international security,” remarks Schanzer.
As we should be doing, the Israeli-Saudi-French team is deploying two basic strategies.
The first is to make clear the consequences of a bad interim deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has talked about the difficulty in restarting sanctions after businesses have rushed in for their piece of the Iran market. The Saudis have been threatening to get that nuclear weapon on back order with Pakistan.
The second is to make a military threat very believable. Rumors begin circulating in the press about an Israeli-Saudi military alliance: “Israel and Saudi Arabia are secretly working together on plans for a possible attack against Iran in case the Geneva talks fail to roll back its nuclear program, British paper The Sunday Times reported. . . . According to the diplomatic source quoted by the Times, Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israel use its air space, and assist an Israeli attack by cooperating on the use of drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes.”
Meanwhile, the Israelis are stating quite clearly and frequently that they do not need the United States in order to act militarily. Israel Hayom reports:
As world powers gear up to continue nuclear negotiations with Iran in Geneva this Wednesday, and as Israel steps up its efforts to prevent a deal that would fail to demand a full suspension of the Iranian nuclear program, former National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said Sunday that Israel could halt Iran’s nuclear weapons capability “for a very long time.” Amidror, who stepped down officially on Nov. 4, told the Financial Times that the Israeli Air Force had been conducting “very long-range flights . . . all around the world” as part of what he called Israel’s preparations for a possible military strike on Iran. “We are not the United States of America, of course, and believe it or not they have more capabilities than we do, but we have enough to stop the Iranians for a very long time,” he said.
It may be hard for France to resist pressure from the United States to sign on to an interim agreement when the parties meet again this week. But having seized the reins of European leadership (perhaps the West more generally), the French may like their new role and want to remain the critical party in the P5+1 coalition ( United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany). If the U.S. Senate proceeds with sanctions, that may stiffen the French negotiators’ spines even more. In the meantime, we can only marvel that Iranian “linkage” is alive and well — that is, it has brought together Israel and the leading Sunni monarchy. Not exactly what the left had in mind when it badgered Israel on the “peace process,” but then few expected the United States to become so irrelevant in the region.