Boxed In

How Israel became the land of no good options.

TEL AVIV, Israel — Jerusalem's response to the Iranian nuclear agreement has been immediate -- and scathing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted it as a "bad deal," Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon described it as a "historical mistake," while another minister, Uzi Landau, compared it to the 1938 Munich Agreement, in which the West tried to appease Adolf Hitler.

It's not hard to see why Israel's top officials are so upset. Contrary to some American claims, the deal does not significantly roll back Iran's nuclear capabilities, and in the event that it collapses, it will only take the Iranians a few months, at most, to produce enough enriched uranium to construct their first nuclear bomb. The agreement also does not grapple with other important aspects of the Iranian nuclear project, such as the "Weapons Group," or create any international supervision over Tehran's ballistic missile program. While Netanyahu wants to roll back Iran's ability to produce a bomb, he suspects President Barack Obama would be satisfied so long as Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.

But despite these misgivings, it is becoming clear that Israel is slowly, grudgingly beginning to understand that the deal signed on Sunday is now the only game in town. Netanyahu's favorite mantra -- that "all options are on the table" to deal with Iran's nuclear program" -- sounds irrelevant, almost forced. At this stage, a unilateral Israeli strike is a bluff nobody believes, least of all the Israeli people themselves.

Only the collapse of the deal, along with an international consensus that Iran was at fault, could raise the possibility of an Israeli strike again. The agreement, after all, calls for daily visits to the Iranian nuclear sites by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors -- one can't imagine that Netanyahu would ever do anything so reckless as to endanger their lives.

Israel's prime minister should not be surprised by the bind he finds himself in, however. As far back as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election in June, the prime minister's advisors had told him what to expect. But Netanyahu's real moment of decision actually came much earlier, before the 2012 U.S. presidential election. When he decided not to strike Iran then, his options became much more limited.

While the prime minister seems intent on describing this deal as a defeat, he could also have spun it as a victory if he had been so inclined. It was his threats to strike Iran, after all, that persuaded Obama to increase the international pressure on Tehran through sanctions. Those sanctions, in turn, hurt the Iranian economy and persuaded the mullahs to allow Rouhani, a relative moderate, to compete in the elections and eventually win. And it was Rouhani's charm offensive that paved the way for the deal, which has at least somewhat slowed Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon.

That's not the only regional boost Israel has experienced recently. The Iran deal is a direct consequence of the Russia-brokered agreement in August to dismantle Syria's huge stockpiles of chemical weapons. And let's recall: the original target of these weapons was Israel, not Syrian rebels or civilians. Now, this threat has vanished -- and Netanyahu didn't have to lift a finger, or give up anything, for this to happen.

But  Netanyahu doesn't see things this way. He believes that the Americans could -- and should -- have driven Iran's leaders to their knees at Geneva through the application of even further sanctions. Not all Israeli military leaders agree: It is interesting to note that two recently retired chiefs of Israel's military intelligence, Gen. Amos Yadlin and Gen. Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, refused to participate in the government's public campaign against the agreement. "Listening to the ministers' cries of agony, I almost thought that the Americans had permitted Iran to produce a nuclear warhead," Yadlin noted sarcastically.

It's not hard to see why these military leaders are loathe to criticize the agreement: It seems the Obama administration has already slowed down some of the important cooperation with Israel on crucial security issues. The current chiefs of Israel's security agencies are acutely aware of the country's dependence on American backing, and it is safe to assume that most of them share their predecessors' fears.

Nor does Israel have a viable alternative to its alliance with Washington. Netanyahu recently visited Moscow and publicly flirted with the idea of improving Jerusalem's ties with Russia, but this was an empty threat against Obama. After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the man who keeps providing the Syrian regime -- and through the Syrians, Hezbollah -- with modern weapons systems. The Americans, meanwhile, are still helping to finance Israel's ultra-sophisticated rocket interception systems. The newest such system, David's Sling, was just successfully tested last week, even as tensions were nearing their peak between Washington and Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force and U.S. Air Force are conducting their largest ever joint exercises over the skies of Israel.

The deal in Geneva also means Netanyahu must tend to his political agenda at home. For years, the prime minister has built up his image as the leader who Israelis can trust to safeguard their interests against growing dangers in the region. But the Israeli public was never as keen as Netanyahu about the use of military force to prevent Iran from going nuclear, and the popular response to the Geneva agreement has accordingly remained limited. It is hard to imagine the voters criticizing Netanyahu for not striking Iran or even for not achieving a better deal -- but in the long run, Netanyahu desperately needs a new issue around which he can rally his supporters.

No one doubts Netanyahu's deep commitment to stopping the Iranian nuclear threat. Like the Blues Brothers, he is on a mission from God against the bomb. Israeli journalists are fond of saying that the prime minister -- a history buff with a softness for World War II memoires -- wakes up every morning and stares in the mirror, only to see Winston Churchill looking back at him. But these days, with the Geneva agreement a done deal, Netanyahu should look in the mirror and ask himself: What next?

Jack Guez-Pool/Getty Images


Imitation Is the Securest Form of Flattery

Why China's powerful, new national defense posture looks so much like America's.

A high-ranking Chinese diplomat once compared China and the United States to neighbors. If China's house keeps growing, he said, the United States might have to move. On Nov. 23, China's Ministry of Defense released a map showing part of its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), a contested area in the East China Sea that includes the Diaoyu -- an island chain which Japan administers and calls the Senkakus -- in which Beijing is stating a right to monitor; and possibly take military action against aircraft who enter. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called China's announcement "dangerous." The United States responded more directly: on Nov. 25, it flew two U.S. B-52 bombers over the Senkaku Island chain, without informing Beijing.

China's publication of the zone is undeniably a provocation (so, too, the U.S. response). But it is also, in Chinese eyes at least, in line with international norms of airspace and transparency. The United States has a clearly defined ADIZ; the website of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warns of "use of force" in the "case of non-compliance." (Secretary of State John Kerry said in a Nov. 23 statement that the United States "does not apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace.") On Nov. 25, Yang Yujun, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, responded to a question about the U.S. government "concern" about China's decision. "Since the 1950s the United States and more than 20 other countries," including Japan, have set up ADIZs, he said. For the United States to oppose this is "utterly unreasonable."

Since taking office in November 2012, Xi has instituted a number of policies that demonstrate a solidification of control of the Communist Party and a streamlining of China's bureaucracy. But, in doing so he's liberally borrowing from the U.S. government's institutional hierarchy and best practices, implementing a series of institutional changes that could be called American reform with Chinese characteristics. And for those concerned about a rising China challenging the United States, this is worrisome indeed.

Perhaps the clearest example came in early November, when Chinese officials announced Beijing would form an organization that will improve "systems and strategies to ensure national security," and is widely considered to be inspired by the U.S. National Security Council (NSC). Upon first announcing the news, Beijing called the organization the State Security Committee in English, but in Chinese used the same word as they use for America's NSC, a body which advises the president on foreign policy and national security issues. Later, it began appearing in English as the National Security Committee.

Over the last few weeks, dozens of articles have appeared in the Chinese press about the NSC. One promises to unlock the secret of the "200-strong troop of top aides" that make up the body, another asks "How powerful is it, really?" while another charts "lessons from the body's 'rise and fall.'" Christopher K. Johnson, a former CIA China analyst now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "They want us to remain humble and modest, so they're not too keen to tell us this is an exact copy. But that's what I heard."

The reform came after an important Communist Party meeting, known as the Third Plenum, held Nov. 9-12 in Beijing, after which officials announced the state will be loosening the one-child policy and abolishing its forced labor camps. But party leaders at the meeting also discussed restructuring the military regions, according to Johnson and Dan Blumenthal, the director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Currently, China's military is divided into seven geographic regions, from Guangzhou in the prosperous southeast to Lanzhou in the unstable northwest. This was a useful system once, when China's biggest threat came from domestic instability or a land war with Russia, but today it's an inefficient way to project power. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has "spent an enormous amount of time since the First Gulf War, since the war in Afghanistan," studying the U.S. military, says Johnson. The PLA, he says, is trying to shift to a U.S. model of more emphasis on individual service arms. Discussions about military restructuring, much like plans to form an NSC, predate the current administration. But Xi appears to wield greater control than his predecessor Hu Jintao, and has proved able to roll out these kind of changes. The goal, as Xi's slogan goes, is to "fight and win battles."

And there's new military might behind these potential military reforms as well. China has a new long-range bomber that can likely carry cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads, its aerospace firms are developing dozens of drones, and a second or even third aircraft carrier may be in the works. In October, China released photographs and information about its first generation of nuclear submarines -- like the ADIZ announcement, it's an exercise in demonstrating its military might. But it's not necessarily a bad thing. This effort is "all about transparency, and being better about its mil-to-mil relationship with the United States," says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, director of Asia-Pacific Programs at the United States Institute of Peace. The United States has worked to be more transparent about its military intentions with regards to China -- and it looks like China has returned the favor.

There are other changes as well that might reflect serious study at the highest levels of U.S. policy. Beijing is "accelerating efforts to set up Chinese versions of US federal circuit courts and the Federal Bureau of Investigation," according to a recent article by Wang Xiangwei, the editor of the Hong Kong-based newspaper the South China Morning Post. And on Nov. 25, Meng Jianzhu, China's domestic security chief, published a lengthy article in which he quoted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and called for more judicial openness. There's even Xi's introduction, in November 2012, of the Chinese Dream --"realizing a prosperous and strong country, the rejuvenation of the nation and the well-being of the people" -- a slogan clearly modeled on the U.S. version.

For years, Beijing's elite officials have been debating how to learn from other great powers. In 2006, for example, the release of the 12-part documentary series "The Rise of the Great Nations," about how countries like Portugal, Russia, and the United States built their empires, stirred wide debate on how China should act as it rises. The conclusion Xi seems to have drawn is that the United States is China's best model. "Selectively ignoring international norms or bypassing international institutions when they don't suit you -- it's a sense that they're a great power and can act more like how they perceive the United States, says Kleine-Ahlbrandt. "They're looking at how great powers instrumentalize the system."

That's not to say there is anything particularly American about Xi himself. Sure, he tremendously enjoyed Saving Private Ryan, according to a Wikileaks cable, and stumped like a country politician around Iowa on a Feb. 2012 trip to the United States. But, like his predecessors, Xi has shown little fondness for the American ideals of democracy and human rights. He doesn't appear to speak English, unlike his predecessor Jiang Zemin, who was fond of quoting the Gettysburg Address (albeit with a heavy accent.) And unlike Deng Xiaoping, who donned a cowboy hat during a 1979 visit to the United States, Xi's last visit was less about photo ops than demonstrating China's new strength. Before a June 2013 summit with Barack Obama, Xi told U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon that it's time to explore "a new type of great power relationship" -- one that implies equality between the two countries.

Whether the United States is willing to allow that kind of parity, as the B-52 bomber overflight shows, is another thing.