Does Iran want to destroy Israel, John Kerry? “I don’t know the answer to that,” the Secretary of State tells The Atlantic today.
Well, we know that to answer “yes” would transform the debate. If Kerry conceded that Iranian belligerence towards Israel (or the United States, for that matter) was genuine, then any deal helping bring the Islamic Republic closer to nuclear weaponry would no longer about the advantages of diplomacy but about putting millions of lives in danger. The administration has done all it can to avoid that debate, including scapegoating and intimidating those most troubled by the prospects of a nuclear Iran.
It’s an ugly habit. You may remember that last year in Munich—in Munich—John Kerry warned Israel to surrender to the Palestinian demands lest the Jews anger critics pushing for boycotts against Israeli products and institutions. “You see, for Israel there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There is talk of boycotts and other kinds of things,” Kerry explained.
Yes, we see.
And just a few weeks ago, as the United States led the world in lifting sanctions on the Iranian regime, Kerry, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, offered the same type of cautionary statement, this time aimed at Jewish Democrats. “I fear that what could happen is if Congress were to overturn it, our friends Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed,” he said.
Obama told a group of U.S Jews the other day that “rockets will fall” on Tel Aviv if Congress kills his nuclear deal. Did anyone ask the president why he’s allowing Iran to restart a ballistic missile program that makes such a future conceivable? I doubt it. In fact, in his small-minded, hyperbolic speech today, Obama claimed that Iranian hardliners opposed to the deal were “making common cause with Republican caucus.” Does that mean the president makes common cause with radical mullahs demanding “Death to America”?
If Congress were even able to “overturn” the deal (and really, that’s improbable, as Republican leadership worked with Democrats to abdicate any proper oversight months ago) the effort will fall on a handful of Jewish Democrats—who, as the president pointed out on The Daily Show this week, pressured by “money” and “lobbyists”— forced to wrestle with the administration’s false premise that a vote against the deal is a vote for war rather than diplomacy.
But if those legislators needed any more grist for opposing the deal, they could find plenty in Jeffery Goldberg’s wide-ranging and eye-opening interview with Kerry for The Atlantic.
For starters, the Secretary of State warns that congress should not be “screwing” with Iranin mullahs and creating an environment that makes negotiating tougher in the future. Apparently the new job of the U.S. Senate is to placate foreigner theocrats and other nations (“five other countries believe in it—six other countries, because Iran signs off, and we’re the seventh”) rather than judge the deal on its merits for the United States.
And then there’s this:
Goldberg: Do you believe that Iranian leaders sincerely seek the elimination of the Jewish state?
Kerry: I think they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment. Whether or not that translates into active steps to, quote, “Wipe it,” you know…
Goldberg: Wipe it off the map.
Kerry: I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t seen anything that says to me—they’ve got 80,000 rockets in Hezbollah pointed at Israel, and any number of choices could have been made. They didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that. So I don’t want to get locked into that debate. I think it’s a waste of time here.
A waste of time? Or the foundation of the entire debate? And if this is true, why do we want to stop Iran at all?
Not only is Kerry asserting that Iranian mullahs can’t destroy Israel (which might well be true), he is contending that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, they probably don’t have any intentions or desire to do it. The proof, he argues, is that they haven’t yet taken active steps to achieve that goal.
So, according to Kerry, the fact that Iranians supply Hezbollah with long-range ballistic missiles is confirmation that Iran has no intention of attacking Israel. Because, well, they haven’t used them yet. And the fact that the Iranians are willing to not dismantle their program, and not stop funding proxies and terror groups, and not release hostages, and accept $100 billion from us, is proof that it wants peace.
No, Hezbollah can’t destroy Israel today. Not even with 80,000 rockets. It can create havoc on the northern border and attempt to murder a bunch of Israelis. But such an attack would be devastating, not only for the Iranian surrogates, but for Iran itself. Until, that is, the latter is in possession of nuclear weapons. Then Hezbollah would be able to operate with far more impunity. Which is the whole the point.
And no one argues that the Iranians are idiots who lack the capacity for strategic thinking. Instead, people argue that the Iranian regime is smart enough and industrious enough to make the underlying irrational theological goal of destroying Israel come to life one day. That doesn’t mean it will happen this month or ten years from now.
Is this the “ideological confrontation” Kerry is talking about? His framing makes it sound like there is a two-way conventional philosophical disagreement between the states that can be repaired. Israel had no geopolitical quarrel with prerevolutionary Iran. Israel doesn’t have its eye on Iranian lands or oil fields and it has no intention of undermining Iranian elections. Would Israel be similarly antagonistic towards the Jordanians becoming a threshold nuclear state, or the Danes or the Bolivians—or even Saudi Arabia?
The entire objection to Iranian nuclear ambition is predicated on the regime’s consistent bellicosity towards Israel, in words and deeds. Even without destroying Israel, a nuclear Iran would have the capacity to inflict tremendous damage in a multitude of ways. Kerry is tragically dismissive of this fear.
Instead, we keep hearing how everyone will blame the Jews if opposition to this deal succeeds. The administration and a media rely on partisan front groups like J-Street to create the impression that there’s some big debate among the pro-Israel organizations about the wisdom of the Iran deal. There is none. Obama gave a speech at American University today arguing that the United States should talk to its enemies—as if anyone disagrees with this assertion. The problem isn’t talking. The problem is surrendering to our enemies when we haven’t even exhausted other means of non-military action to slow and stop them.
Then again, according to John Kerry, we’re not really stopping anything, since Iran is probably just another peaceful nation.