Israel and America After the Iran Deal

Now that congressional Democrats have blocked a Republican effort to kill the Iran nuclear deal, attention is shifting to what America must do to reassure Israel and its American supporters that the agreement will not harm Israel’s security.

Increased cooperation between America and its regional partners, including the Arab gulf states as well as Israel, is vital to ensuring that Iran sticks to the deal, which curbs its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. America and its partners need to find ways to keep Iran from using billions of dollars, which were frozen in overseas banks but are due to be released, to expand its use of proxies like Hezbollah to stir trouble abroad.

These are the goals of a broad legislative package now under negotiation by the White House and Democratic lawmakers. There is a risk some parties will try to overcompensate for the bitter political tensions over the Iran deal and go too far in trying to please Israel or the Arab gulf states. Republican lawmakers and other forces opposed to the Iran agreement have made clear that they will use any new legislation to continue trying to kill it.

One dubious proposal would have the United States provide Israel with a massive ordnance penetrator, or MOP, a 30,000-pound bomb that could do serious damage to Fordo, the Iranian enrichment facility built into a mountain. President Obama has already promised Israel a smaller, 4,444-pound, bunker-busting bomb. Adding MOP to the mix would be provocative and dangerous.

Some also want Congress to formally authorize the president in advance to use force in case Iran violates the deal. That may make supporters of such a proposal feel tough, but it would embolden hard-liners in Iran, undercut Iranians who want the deal to succeed and promote the illusion that threats are the best way for Washington to exert influence. Under law, presidents have wide latitude to take military action on their own; Mr. Obama has repeatedly promised he would not let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon and is prepared to use force if needed.

Since 2009, the United States has provided Israel with more than $20 billion in military aid, as well as more than $3 billion for missile defense systems and $1.9 billion in precision-guided munitions. It has also promised that Israel will be the only Middle East nation to have the advanced F-35 jet fighter. To win backing for the Iran agreement, Mr. Obama pledged to further strengthen the relationship by negotiating a new security agreement and renewing assurances that Israel, the only country in the region with nuclear weapons, will always have military superiority over its neighbors. It is probably inevitable that American aid to Israel, already a top recipient, will be increased, but Congress knows those increases come at a time of strict limits on federal spending and will undoubtedly require cuts in other programs.

America has a responsibility to help ensure the security of Israel and the gulf allies and to see that Iran adheres to the deal. But this cannot be done if Congress imposes restrictions that cause the agreement to implode or prevent the administration from taking advantage of openings to cooperate with Iran. Congress can be most helpful by creating its own process for rigorously monitoring how the accord is implemented.

The focus on America’s obligations often ignores the responsibility Israel and the gulf states have for regional security. Saudi Arabia shares much blame for the rise of extremist groups, while Israel undermines stability by failing to negotiate peace with the Palestinians.

In the end, what’s most important for Israel’s security is the relationship with the United States. Those ties were put at risk by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and congressional Republicans, who polarized the debate over the Iran deal. A crucial sense of trust needs to be rebuilt. It is unclear that this can happen soon, no matter how many promises of aid and cooperation America makes to Israel.

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The New York Times / The Editorial Board / Sept. 24, 2015