March 2015 is looking like it is going to be a very “interesting” month, to quote the well-known Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”.
First Prime Minister Netanyahu will address the joint houses of Congress while he is in Washington to attend the annual AIPAC meeting.
Second, on the 17th, the elections take place in Israel. At this point they are entirely unpredictable as the maneuvering and jockeying proceed on what seems like an hourly basis.. .
Third, one week later, the 24th, is the latest “deadline” to reach an agreement between the six powers and Iran on the Iranian program to develop the ability to produce nuclear weapons.
The prime minister, John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Obama are engaged in a three-way political dance, each trying to gain political advantage from the impending address. Which will gain more from this exercise is not clear. Indeed, it is not clear that there will be any winner politically. Certainly relations between Israel and the Obama Administration, already bad have been getting worse and will continue to do so at a particularly crucial time.
Whoever becomes prime minister after the March elections may have to deal with a highly questionable deal between the six powers and Iran. Rumors are getting stronger, echoed by both sides, that an agreement is imminent. If it is a manifestly bad deal for the West, as seems entirely probable, Israel will be faced with a decision of what, if anything, to do about it, and the U.S. Congress will be faced with exactly the same decision, having put off its vote on the bipartisan bill to reestablish lapsed sanctions and impose new ones if there is no deal or if the deal reached in unacceptable.
Unfortunately for this scenario, if there is no deal on the 24th of March the likely result will not be a breaking-off of the negotiations, but rather yet another postponement of the deadline. What do Israel and the Congress do in that case? If there is a bad deal and Congress in reaction passes the sanctions legislation, President Obama will veto it. If it is passed over his veto, a result unlikely in the Senate, that will simply give Iran an excuse not to fulfill even what inadequate measures it was supposed to make under the deal. In that case tightening of multilateral sanctions is highly unlikely. Win for the mullahs, loss for the West. Beware the Ides of March indeed.
In the meantime, as these scary scenarios play themselves out, the director of Israel’s Anti-Trust Authority, Prof. David Gilo, continues to demonstrate that after Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, he is the most significant threat to the economic, financial and geopolitical security of Israel. His repudiation last December of his agreement with the companies developing the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields the previous March follows its entirely predictable but disastrous path. Standard & Poors threatens to lower Israel’s credit rating. the consortium companies pledge to fulfill their supply commitments to Jordan and Egypt despite Gilo’s fatwa.
In the case of Jordan, the gas will be supplied from Tamar rather than Leviathan, thereby limiting its availability to the Israeli market. As to Egypt, the gas will be supplied, except that it will be supplied from Cyprus’ Aphrodite field rather than from Leviathan, thereby throwing away a superb, one-time geopolitical advantage in tying that essential country to Israel by a golden chain of economic cooperation.
Beware the Ides of March, but beware also of single-minded fanatics determined to uphold their principles at the cost of the structure they are supposedly protecting.
* Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D. is Professor of Economic Statecraft, The Institute of World Politics, Washington, D.C., and Professor of Economic Statecraft at the Center for the Study of National Security, University of Haifa, Israel. He was Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan for National Security Affairs and Director of International Economic Affairs, National Security Council, 1981-1984.
* T A variation of this commentary is due to appear in Globes