The forest, the trees and the Iran nuclear deal

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Concluding the nuclear deal with Iran has intensified political arguments not only in Washington but also within the pro-Israel community. Many groups are devoting significant time and resources to opposing the agreement and attempting to prevent its approval by Congress out of a belief that it will leave both the United States and Israel less safe. In view of the political reality, however, the energy being spent to fight it is misplaced. Instead, we must prepare for the day after the agreement goes into effect to ensure that the United States and Israel are in the best possible position to confront the new realities that this deal will create in the Middle East.

Despite the various shortcomings identified by the agreement’s opponents, the campaign to scuttle it is a Sisyphean one. Even if a majority of senators and congressmen have strong misgivings, it will be extremely difficult to siphon off enough Democratic votes to make its rejection veto-proof. In addition, most polling confirms that a majority of Americans, including Jews, support it. While nothing is ever certain, the deal’s passage in Congress and eventual implementation appears assured. Thus, the vital task at hand is to ensure that, in the post-deal world, American and Israeli shared interests are protected. This undertaking, which cannot be pushed off for the next 60 days, should address three primary issues.


First, the U.S.-Israel relationship cannot afford to sustain any more damage as a result of the discord about Iran. Washington and Jerusalem must now repair ties at the highest levels while continuing to coordinate in the closest possible manner on regional defense, security and intelligence matters. Israel’s security is harmed when its support is seen as partisan, and the recent period of rancor between American and Israeli leaders must be set aside as an aberration rather than a new baseline. There is no more important component to Israeli security than the relationship with the United States, and it must be beyond challenge. This will involve an American effort toward not only maintaining but increasing Israel’s clear qualitative military edge, an explicit plan to deal with Iranian violations of the nuclear accord, and an Israeli resolve not to sabotage core American diplomatic initiatives. An ironclad American commitment to Israel’s safety and close coordination with Israel and regional allies to contain a newly empowered Iran will both reset the U.S.-Israel relationship in a positive way and contribute toward regional stability.

Second, the forest of the two-state solution cannot be lost in the trees of the Iran deal. There is no better way of guaranteeing Israel’s future as a safe, prosperous, democratic state than preserving the ability to negotiate a separation from the Palestinians when conditions allow. In no way should efforts to counter Iranian regional mischief be conditioned on Israeli movement toward a Palestinian state. But by the same token, a strong Israel is more important than ever in the face of a strengthened Iran, and the two-state solution cannot remain on the back burner given how imperative it is for Israel’s long-term security. On a regional level, the Iran agreement provides an opportunity for cooperation between Israel and Arab states to counter Iran and to use such cooperation as a steppingstone toward normalized relations, but tangible and public cooperation will only be possible if Israel demonstrates its willingness to make progress on the Palestinian front. Israel should take advantage of the opportunity that the Iran deal presents to shore up its security, and doing so effectively will mean devoting attention to the Palestinian issue.

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Finally, the squabbling over the Iran deal has opened up large fissures in the American Jewish community, and the wounds will not easily heal should they be allowed to fester. Principled policy differences and heated debate over the wisdom and efficacy of the agreement should not derail the universally shared goals of a strong U.S.-Israel alliance and a commitment to Israel’s security. While there are strongly held differences of opinion on how to achieve these goals, surely everyone can agree that an American Jewish community that has policy debates in a vigorous yet respectful manner makes them more achievable.

We must deal with the world that we have. The international community has reached an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Let us now work together to shape a post-deal environment that advances important U.S. national interests, especially the security of Israel and our other regional allies.


Peter A. Joseph is chairman of Israel Policy Forum; Charles R. Bronfman is chairman of the organization’s advisory committee; Susie Gelman is a member of the board and is part owner of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.

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