Note both the US and its controversial decision to pull out of the Iran deal – and Syria and the repetitive military blows that Iran must absorb in recent months.
Note these two developments and realize that something important had changed: Iran, after a long period of relative calm and easy choices, faces tough opposition from the US and Israel.
Iran has to reconsider the benefit and the possible cost of its actions. On Tuesday – Trump drew a diplomatic red line. The status quo is to be, and the ball is now in Iran’s court.
1. The Middle East suddenly looks different. On Tuesday night, hours after Trump made his announcements, sites near Damascus were bombed again. Another red line was reemphasized: Israel would not permit significant Iranian presence in Syria. The sites bombed were reportedly the sites from which Iran was ready to launch an attack on Israel. So the status quo of Iranian presence in Syria is also challenged.
Trump’s presented Iran with a choice: Resist and bear possibly grim consequences, or renegotiate a deal with which the US is ready to live. Syria’s limited skirmishes present Iran with a choice: Insist and bear possibly grim consequences, or give up on your Syrian dream.
2. In February 2015, when Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel was about to speak about Iran before Congress, I pleaded with him to reconsider his speech. “Speaking up next month before the United States Congress”, I wrote, “would not serve Israel’s interests. Instead of being an opportunity to seriously address the risks of Iran’s nuclear program, such a speech would scuttle the discussion”.
Is now the time to say that he was right and I was wrong? I am not yet sure about that, but I think it is time to consider the possibility that he, indeed, was right. Yes, his speech was enraging to the administration. But at that point in time, Netanyahu correctly assessed that Obama and Kerry had crossed a point of no return concerning the agreement. They were going to sign it no matter what. Yes – Netanyahu also enraged Democratic legislators. It is still a problem for Israel that the Iran deal is perceived in the US (much less so in Israel) as a partisan issue. But at that point in time Netanyahu was ready to pay a political price with the Democratic Party to scuttle a deal he perceive as highly dangerous for Israel.
Did he achieve what he wanted? At the time of the speech he did not. A deal was signed. Israel was ignored. Netanyahu was ridiculed for his speech. Yet a seed was planted. His speech did establish Israel’s uncompromising position. And it did serve for many many American politicians as opportunity to state their own position on the Iran deal. Netanyahu can make a solid case with which to argue that what we see today is at least partially the result of what he did three years ago. An honest observer must consider this case – and with it, his previous position.
3. Donald Trump made up his mind a long time ago that the deal was not an achievement but rather an embarrassment. He made up his mind a long time ago that what he wants is to ditch the deal. He should get credit even from rivals for being a man of his word – this is what we all want from our politicians, don’t we?
Well, that depends. We all like to commend the leaders who make good on promises they’ve made during election season. That is, unless we dislike these promises. If we dislike these promises, what we’d say is as follows: a good leader is a leader who can see the difference between promises given during election time, and the realities of having to govern.
In other words: Trump will be praised for doing as he said he’d do by those wanting him to do just that. He will be condemned by all others, and will not even get credit for, yet again, doing what he said he was going to do.
4. Trump deserves credit. But only if ditching the nuclear deal is a first step out of many to follow. In fact, this is the most important fact we all need to understand as we try to understand the meaning of today’s news: these news, the announcement of pull out, are a nugget. They are but one stop in a long process. Judging the wisdom and predicting the outcome of Trump’s action is something we all do, without noticing that for the time being, as the sound of bombs going off near Damascus is still in our earths, and as Trump’s words still echo, our judgments and predictions mean little.
Think of this the way you think about a car beginning its journey to a faraway city. Is it going in the right direction? Maybe it did for the first ten miles – on Tuesday, May 8th 2018, it run these first miles – but if after ten miles it takes the wrong turn, or breaks down, or has no fuel – the car will never get to where it needs to go. And of course, the same is true if you believe that the car began its journey headed the wrong way. A sober driver can still recalculate and turn around. A wise driver might still take a circumvent way that is less crowded.
Is Trump’s car headed in the right direction? I think it does, but this still doesn’t mean it will get to its final destination; You might think that it’s headed in the wrong direction, but this also doesn’t mean that Trump’s car is lost. One thing both supporters and opponents of Trump’s decision can agree: it is a new day in the Middle East, and a new day for Iran. A day of reckoning.