The divide within the Jewish community over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was deep, and dirty at times. Did we learn enough from that ugly experience to prevent another round of calling each other fools or kapos in the wake of President Trump’s decision to decertify Iran compliance?
Two years ago, those who supported President Obama’s effort to halt Tehran’s march toward developing nuclear weapons took a pragmatic approach, insisting that despite the deal’s flaws, it was better than nothing. Yes, they argued, the agreement did not deal with Iran’s support of terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah or its ballistic missiles program. And, most worrisome, within a decade Iran could resume its nuclear path toward a bomb. But it brought together the U.S., the European Union, Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China in trading sanctions relief for a curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program, with the hope that over the next few years conditions in Iran would improve.
Critics of the agreement said it was woefully insufficient and, in effect, gave Iran billions of dollars to simply delay their nuclear warpath for a few years. And they note that there are no signs of a diplomatic thaw in Iran.
Many of the same arguments are back, but President Trump has a very different approach here than Obama, to say the least. Obama was reluctant to use force in international affairs, sometimes tragically so (Syria); Trump seems eager for a fight. After repeatedly calling the Iran deal the worst ever, and having pledged during the campaign to tear it up when elected, the president had to be persuaded by his top military and security experts to hold back, at least for now. This past week, by decertifying, he dropped the issue in Congress’ lap. Trump wants the lawmakers to pass new, tougher legislation that would address the flaws cited above. Otherwise, he says he will pull out of the deal.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is firmly in Trump’s corner, though some of his top military and security experts call for keeping the agreement as is. Trump gives the impression that the U.S. is following the Israeli prime minister’s lead here. In criticizing Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, the top Jewish member of Congress, for not supporting his proposal, Trump tweeted: “Tell that to Israel, Chuck!”
So far, most major Jewish groups in the U.S. are taking a cautious approach to this complex situation. No doubt they would like to see the Iran deal fortified — especially by ending rather than delaying Tehran’s efforts to develop a nuclear arsenal — but they worry that if the deal falls through, Iran can fast-track its nuclear program. And there’s the matter of breaking an international agreement and alienating our allies.
The president’s approach works best if he is prepared to use the military option. But that’s a scary proposition on many levels. One possible win-win solution would have the U.S. working closely with its European allies to curb Iran’s terror activities and missile tests while keeping the nuclear agreement intact. That would allow Trump to show his approach had tangible results, yet not jeopardize the existing deal.
We are hopeful that members of our community have learned that moving forward, seeking common ground, is more productive than questioning each other’s loyalty to the U.S. and/or Israel.