The espionage genre isn’t what it used to be back in the good old Cold War days. Back then there was a clear-cut good guy versus bad guy backdrop to a spy versus spy tale, no matter how morally ambiguous an Ian Fleming or John le Carre might render their cloak-and-dagger heroes, but these days it’s hard to tell who to root for. This story about Israel’s alleged spying on the negotiations between the United States and its European partners with the Iranian government, for instance, will never make the movies.
There’s no doubt that the Israelis did somehow discover information about the negotiations that President Barack Obama would have preferred they did not know, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that would get an American audience’s blood rushing. It’s all just a sub-plot of a bigger story that the Hollywood moguls won’t want to touch, as well, At this point we have no reason to believe there was even any spying at all, at least not of the sort of that involves the planting of electronic surveillance devices or the taking of pictures with tiny cameras slipped into the heel of a shoe or a comely seductress luring a diplomat to his doom or any of that cinematic sort of spy craft. The Israelis freely admit to having obtained all the information they could gather about America’s negotiations with a country that has vowed to drop nuclear bombs and them and annihilate their entire population, which seems a reasonable thing to do, but insists it was all a dreary matter of diplomatic contacts and calling in favors from well-placed sources and reading the same papers where Obama seems to get all his news, and this seems plausible enough. We’d like to think the diplomatic channels would put Israel in touch with some highly-placed American and European sources who would still prefer that Iran not annihilate the Jewish state and are willing to share information about any developments that might make that unhappy event more likely, and given the taut security of the Obama administration the eaves-dropping microphones and shoe cameras and comely seductresses hardly seems necessary.
To further muddle the plot, the Israelis didn’t pass the information along to some cat-stroking arch-villain in a South Pacific volcano island fortress but rather to the United States Congress and the American people. Even the Wall Street Journal article that broke this story, and with all the breathless fervor of a screenplay treatment being pitched to a Hollywood producer, admits that “The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.” It’s not clear from the story how The Wall Street Journal defines “espionage,” and whether its quoting of “current and former officials” would also meet that definition, but in any case the officials’ admission would introduce another plot-twist that would make that Hollywood producer wince. The good guy is supposed to be Obama, at least if you want to sell this script to Hollywood, and it’s likely to be a little confusing when he’s the one who’s withholding information not only from Congress, a stock villain, but also the American people. Even the foreign audiences, a vital market, might find that baffling.
Perhaps the plot can proceed that our heroic president is shrewdly negotiating a brilliant deal despite the efforts of hard-liners in both Iran and among those villainous Republicans and Israelis who so ardently desire an Iranian bomb, but if it will take some expensive computer-generated images to explain why the Republicans or Israelis would want that and some rather fanciful screenwriters to bring it to a happy ending. The big hole in the plot is why the heroic president with the masterful plan won’t reveal it to the American public until it has been signed, sealed, and delivered without the approval of the people and their elected congressional representatives. Those press reports that the deal will allow Iran to continue its nuclear-enriching centrifuges and join the nuclear club in ten years seem all the more convincing, the Iranian’s long history of duplicity in international affairs makes it hard to believe that even such generosity won’t be abused, and the most likely ending would be derivative of “Dr. Strangelove.”
There was never a sequel to “Dr. Strangelove,” as you’ll recall, and this plot is an even bigger downer.
— Bud Norman