The Normalization of Iran: Another View From Israel

In the United States and Israel, a heated debate about whether to accept the nuclear deal with Iran continues. In the rest of the world, Iran’s reintegration is already underway.

A vista of Hamburg, from a German tourist-promotion site. Israeli tourism to Germany is booming; one Israeli reader explains why that matters and what it bodes for dealing with Iran. (Germany Info & Wikimedia Commons)

The survival of the Iran deal seems more likely by the day; for past assessments of what that might mean for the Middle East, the United States, and beyond, please see the items grouped here.

Two weeks ago, as part of a collection of notes from readers in Israel, I quoted Samuel J. Cohen, who is originally American but has lived and worked in Israel since the 1970s, on the possibility that “Obama and Netanyahu are both right.” That is: President Obama is right that ending Iran’s pariah status will overall be good for the United States, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is right that the same change may be overall bad for Israel, even if Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. Thus the interests of the two nations genuinely diverge.

Samuel Cohen is back with another dispatch that rings true to my own experience. He is describing how different the Iran-deal furore seems when viewed from any place except either the United States or Israel. What he reports is similar to what I’ve seen on trips to China and Europe and in contacts with friends in Australia through these past few months. Here is his message, followed by an important housekeeping note about a new Atlantic feature:


It takes only minutes, literally, to escape that swirling vortex between Israel and Washington that for weeks has been churning about the Iran deal.  Within that storm, Iran is the dragon of the devil; the vote of the U.S. Congress in September will appease, embolden, or snuff out its fire; and the lobbying campaigns, TV spots, and street rallies will determine the fate of the world.

Yet board a flight from Tel Aviv, and before we have crossed the coastline, you can browse the August edition of the Lufthansa Magazine for touring suggestions: a four page picture spread, “Teheran in a Day.” It features a café for young lovers, fortune telling birds, contemporary art, film, and cuisine, and of course, the parkour girls of Abo Atash Park, (they have already been featured in the Guardian, the NY Daily News, and their own YouTube and Facebook clips.)

No one in Israel likes the nuclear deal with Iran.  Some realize that it is probably the best, or only, option for preventing a nuclear-weaponed Iran, but we are all aware that Israel will pay the price of a stronger, richer, and no less belligerent Iran that wants to destroy us. It is not on our tourist map.  Yet with the exception of the die-hard Bibi believers, there is a growing feeling of resignation, and concern for “the day after.”Anger, yes, then buttressed by the religious (or rational?) affirmation “We survived Pharaoh; this too will pass.”

The U.S. debate seems far more fierce. We understand the Republican’s laying into Obama, and the White House loyalists fighting back.  But for those of us who follow the discussions (ok, we are not such a large bunch) in the American Jewish community, among Christian supporters of Israel, and in the partisan media, the political and historical tone and the nearly apocalyptical overtone, and the personal repercussions of taking a position, seem way beyond the heated political fracas we are used too.

Back to my Lufthansa flight: In the U.S. all sides seem to believe that the Congressional vote will be critical to the future of Iran’s nuclear program, to Iran’s economy, and Iran’s place in the world. That belief is wrong. Outside of the U.S., the world is ready to accept Iran back into the fold.

The German engineer sitting next to me on the flight told me he works for a Chinese automotive parts manufacturer. They already do some business in Iran, and expect they will do much more No one is looking too closely at the Ayatollah’s signature on the deal. The Europeans are happy to do export business, several Asian countries will be happy to increase oil purchases, several African states can count on increased Iranian aid. Russia and China will both develop their alliances with the Ayatollah’s regime. Tourism, business, educational exchange, parkour exhibitions are all on the way. They are not waiting for the Congressional vote.

Academics may write that Obama understands the limits of American power and the necessity of building alliances. The Republicans will mourn. And the world will go on its way.  It is, after all, a Lufthansa flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt. Many of the passengers seem to be Israeli families going on a late August vacation. Israeli tourism to Germany increased 14% in 2014, and according to my neighbor who just returned “Israelis are going in hordes to visit the Black Forest and Bavaria.” Turkey, which used to be Israelis’ favorite summer vacation spot, is now seen to be unfriendly to us Zionists. So Germany it is then.

My grandchildren may yet have their fortunes told by the budgie oracles of Teheran.

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Receiving and being able to share messages from readers—supportive, critical, or just informative—has for me been one of the enormous satisfactions of the net-empowered era of journalism. For reasons that my Atlantic colleagues John Gould, Chris Bodenner, and Matt Thompson clearly lay out here,  this kind of informal, shambling, blog-istic interaction with readers has become more awkward as most online sites have shifted style in the past few years.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, they explain it in detail. And their introductions are part of a very welcome addition to our magazine’s ever-growing online presence: a new “Notes” section that aspires to recreate what was best about the lost, past, Golden Age of Blogging™, enhanced by everything we’ve learned since then. Ta-Nehisi Coates has already started in with some Notes dispatches. I’ll probably do more of my own posting there than anywhere else, with more formal stand-alone mini-articles here.

I’ll plan to begin this very afternoon with a report on a visit to the Southern Tier brewery in Lakewood, New York, not far from Chautauqua where my wife Deb and I have spent this week talking about our American Futures project. See you over in the Notes section.