Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
As American Jewish progressive Zionists who are deeply worried about the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel, we need some clarifications:
Is there any outcome you would endorse that Iran could conceivably accept?
You have made clear that you want Iran to be stripped of its nuclear capacity, without even a limited ability to enrich uranium. But people involved in the negotiations say the zero enrichment demand cannot be achieved because Iran would never accept it. If that is your demand, aren’t you precluding any possibility of a negotiated deal?
You call for tougher sanctions on Iran. If they are imposed, do you expect that any Iranian leader would survive if he proposed relinquishing all nuclear research and development, which has been a national priority since the days of the shah? We’ve searched hard and can’t find any experts on Iran who believe that will be possible.
If you won’t accept any agreement that could in fact be reached with Iranian leaders, what alternatives do you propose and how do you expect us to defend them?
One option, clearly, is military action. If Israel opts for a preemptive military attack on Iran, we assume it would prefer not to launch it unilaterally. So we presume part of your agenda is to try to convince Americans that all options should be on the table, which of course echoes what President Obama has already said.
Most Americans don’t want war with Iran. Only 9 percent think Iran is America’s “greatest enemy,” according to a recent Gallup poll. We can easily explain why Iran threatens American interests. But we can’t convincingly argue that this threat is so dire that it warrants military action unless Iran attacks the United States or there is conclusive proof that it is on the verge of having nuclear weapons. In the latter case, the main justification for attacking Iran will be that it endangers Israel.
What you are doing now will make it much harder for Israel to get America’s help in the future. Openly antagonizing our president, implying that American negotiators don’t know what they are doing and deliberately trying to sabotage negotiations meant to deter Iran might win friends among a minority of Americans. But it is not going to build the broader goodwill that Israel is going to need if it is in imminent danger not only from Iran, but also from Hezbollah and Hamas.
Why isn’t it in America’s interest to pursue a cold peace with Iran?
The United States has skin in this game, too. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has admitted that if there is a preemptive attack, Iran will be able to “carry out terror activity using the cells they have in many countries in the region — to harm American interests.” There are American troops in Iraq who would be at risk of attacks from Shi’ite militias under Iran’s thumb. Should we not be concerned about those risks?
Conversely, experienced American diplomats like those in the Iran Project believe that diminished tensions with Iran will give the United States a better chance to stop ISIS, stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, and reduce the violent chaos in Syria. So why shouldn’t the United States at least try for a deal that reduces Iranian adventurism, as long as it includes very intrusive inspections, severely diminishes Iranian nuclear capacities and — if Iran defies world powers and goes back on its commitments — ensures it would require at least a year to develop enough fissile material to make a bomb?
A longer version of this essay can be found at JTA.org.