A Worthy Leap of Faith

Editorial

getty images

Published November 24, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The interim agreement reached between the United States, five world powers and the Islamic Republic of Iran is not, as some commentators have said, a “historic deal.”

Nor, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, is it a “historic mistake.”

Its historical significance will only be known in six months or, perhaps, six years. Instead, we view this agreement as a risky but positive first step step. There are some downsides to the U.S. and Israel, but only a modest amount, and they are more than offset by the easing of tensions between longtime antagonists, the opportunity for limited inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the possibility that a military response of highly questionable efficacy could be averted or, at least, delayed.

The official White House statement on the agreement is clear about what it is, and isn’t. Iran agreed to halt the progress of its nuclear program and roll it back in key respects – “the first meaningful limits that Iran has accepted on its nuclear program in close to a decade.”

Just as importantly, Iran agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency broad access to the Natanz, Fordow and Arak nuclear facilities, although it fell short of permitting all the intrusive inspections that the IAEA said is needed to ensure that the nuclear program is, indeed, peaceful.

It may be that the tentative nature of these steps will simply delay the day of reckoning, and put the Obama administration in an even more fraught situation six months from now. What if the Iranians fulfill some aspects of the agreement, and not others? What if they bargain for more time?

Already we’ve seen this administration kick the proverbial can down the road when it comes to serous domestic issues like the debt ceiling and the federal budget. Will U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations become a series of starts-and-stops all the while enrichment continues?

That possibility is a grave concern. But it is also possible that the interim agreement achieves what it is meant to do – build a modicum of trust between two bitter enemies while halting some of Iran’s most dangerous activities and setting the stage for a comprehensive pact that truly could safeguard the region.

It seems to us that the United States and the Western powers did not give up too much in return. The roughly $7 billion in sanctions relief is a fraction of the total economic punishment inflicted on Iran – the White House says that the vast majority of Iran’s $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings remain inaccessible or restricted by sanctions. Sanctions can be turned on as quickly as they can be turned off. It was unrealistic to imagine that the Iranians would sign any agreement without some relief; this amount seems appropriate but certainly not generous.

It’s no surprise that Netanyahu would find anything short of total capitulation on Iran’s part to be unacceptable. He’s living in a more dangerous neighborhood than America’s, and his default reaction is to favor threat over diplomacy on many fronts. His vehement reaction to this agreement is understandable and perhaps even desirable – it shows Iran that hardline sentiment will not be easily assuaged, and that more concessions will be more politically difficult if the six-month agreement isn’t met. A cynic could even conclude that Netanyahu and his allies in Congress are playing a necessary role in this high-stakes drama.

But there is also a risk that Israel will take its opposition too far. American Jews are far more likely than other Americans – never mind other Israelis – to support President Obama’s stance on Iran. The recent Pew Research Center survey (conducted before this agreement, of course) found that over half, 52%, of American Jews approved of the way that Obama was handling Iran. That percentage was consistent among all age groups, and only deviated when denomination was tallied, the Orthodox being much less supportive than Jews in more liberal denominations.

Those who advocate on behalf of American Jews must take such sentiments into account.

In the end, time will only tell whether this agreement was a wise leap of faith or a useless diversion. Considering what is at stake here and what may be missed if this opportunity isn’t grasped, we think this is a risk well worth taking. It may turn out to be a “historic mistake” but the odds are greater that it will lead to a historic breakthrough – confirmation that patient diplomacy backed up by economic punishment is the more successful alternative to military threats, even when dealing with one of the world’s most dangerous regimes.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.