Analysis from Israel

If anyone still believes President Barack Obama’s vow to keep Iran from going nuclear, today’s bombshell from the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius ought to dispel this illusion. According to Ignatius, Turkey deliberately gave Tehran the identities of up to 10 Iranians working as informants for Israel, resulting in a “significant” loss of intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally approved this decision, and it followed several other incidents in which Erdoğan’s handpicked spy chief gave Iran “sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel.” Yet not only did Washington refuse to even lodge a protest with Ankara, it warmed relations with Turkey even further, to the point that “Erdoğan was among Obama’s key confidants.”

Needless to say, someone serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program would be raging over the loss of “significant” intelligence about it, not rewarding the person responsible for this loss by elevating him to the role of key confidant. By this behavior, Obama signaled Tehran that he’s quite content to remain in ignorance about its race toward the bomb. Someone serious about stopping this program would also stop sharing “sensitive” intelligence about it with a person who known to have passed it on to Tehran, rather than continuing to treat him as a confidant.

But even without the Ignatius bombshell (which should also lead to mass resignations from the Congressional Turkey Caucus, if Congress is as serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program as it has hitherto shown itself to be), the contrast between this week’s negotiating session with Iran and Obama’s meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu last month provided pretty clear evidence of Obama’s attitudes. According to Haaretz, Obama complained to the Israeli premier that Israeli-Palestinian talks were progressing too slowly and demanded that they be accelerated, saying otherwise, the nine-month deadline wouldn’t be met. Nothing irreversible is likely to happen that would make a deal impossible if this deadline were missed, yet even so, Obama considered the once-a-week negotiating sessions insufficient.

On Iran, in contrast, time is really of the essence: Its nuclear program is continuing apace even during the negotiations, and experts predict that at this rate, it will reach “critical capability” – the ability to produce nuclear weapons undetected – by mid-2014 at the latest. Yet on this issue, Obama seems to have all the time in the world: Following this week’s opening session in Geneva, talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 will resume only in another three weeks’ time, on November 7.  The contrast between Obama’s impatience on the non-urgent Israeli-Palestinian issue and his seemingly inexhaustible patience on the urgent Iranian one is cogent proof of which issue he really cares about and which he doesn’t.

Last month, a poll found that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis no longer believe Obama’s promise to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and after Ignatius’ revelation sinks in, I’d expect the number to climb even higher. That’s precisely why, contrary to the New York Times‘ fond delusion that Netanyahu is “increasingly alone abroad and at home,” the Israeli public is now solidly behind him: In another recent poll, fully two-thirds of Israelis said they would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, a sharp reversal from the 58% who opposed it just last year. Israelis, it seems, are starting to realize that nobody will stop Iran from getting nukes if they don’t. 

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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