Hours after the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (the "P-5") announced an interim deal that pulls Iran back from the threshold of nuclear weapons capacity, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done more than denounce the agreement. By reasserting Israel's right to attack Iran at its own discretion, even following this international accord, Netanyahu has effectively set Israel as the Middle East's new rogue state - even without actually attacking Iran.
With Iran formally committed to the agreement, Israel is now the nation standing defiantly against world opinion and the international community. None of those countries party to the agreement - including France and the United States - can now abide an Israeli attack.
Israel is routinely criticized and condemned, with or without justification, for all manner of violations of international law. Yet it enjoys positive relations with dozens of countries and is seamlessly integrated into the global economy, and it has never directly defied the Security Council. Though the Council as an entity has not formalized the agreement, the P-5 and the European Union are all officially signed on. Agree or disagree (as I did elsewhere) with Netanyahu's assessment of the negotiations and the deal, he is now declaring itself above the Security Council.
If Israel feels the need to launch an actual attack, it can do so without continually advertising its readiness. Israel's military threats will not keep Iran from proceeding with a nuclear weapons program, though it may succeed in undermining the value of the agreement to the Iranians and others in the region, which probably harms rather than hurts Israel's security. For the past few years, Netanyahu's consistent warpath rhetoric has probably made it more difficult to get the needed support for stronger sanctions and enforcement.
Consider Israel's options:
1. Attacking Iran BEFORE the deal would have been dangerous and invite new economic boycotts and suspend most international military cooperation.
2. Attacking AFTER the deal was signed would be even more dangerous and trigger significant international sanctions against Israel, with the U.S. bound to assent given its signature on the agreement.
3. Attacking after the deal was signed AND after advertising its intentions for months (as Israel implicitly has been doing) will generate devastating responses even from Israel's friends, with the added erosion of Israel's moral claims that still resonate in many corners of the world - including the United States.
4. Even if Israel does not attack, as long as it rejects the deal and maintains an attack on virtual standby, it comes across as the new bad boy on the block, willing to spoil a deal that most international observers and key nations (including most Americans) see as a good start.
Last week, Netanyahu's allies rebuked his newly restored Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for suggesting an end to Israel's unique alliance with the United States. Today, after Lieberman reacted to news of the interim deal by reiterating Israel's willingness to attack Iran on its own, Netanyahu has followed with a formal statement backing that up, and in effect daring the world to treat Israel as a pariah - including in governments and economies normally sympathetic to the Jewish State.
Yes, the stakes are particularly high for Israelis, many of whom tell me that therefore Israel's plans are its own business. But if Netanyahu keeps telling us that Iran threatens INTERNATIONAL security and not just Israel, then by his measure we do have as much right to weigh in. Either way, why keep broadcasting those plans to the world? Even as a bluff, they seem to be counter-productive at this stage.