Writing in The Washington Post, David Ignatious What a war in 1973 can tell us about handling Iran in 2013.

By the second clause, you know that the lesson will be to be reasonable with Iran. So there’s no surprise that Ignatius concludes:

As Netanyahu thinks now about Iran, he faces a dilemma similar to what confronted Meir: Are peace offers from Israel’s adversaries serious, or simply a cover for belligerent actions? One lesson of 1973 is that it’s worth testing through negotiations whether the proposals are real.

But why go all the way back to 1973? 1993 offers a much different lesson.

I remember that for years those who knew better than Israel what was good for Israel insisted that Israel needed to abandon its principled objection to negotiating with terrorists. Israel acquiesced on the basis of a letter that Arafat signed and exchanged with Prime Minister Rabin.

But then a few months later, in South Africa, Arafat revealed his true intent. Speaking in a South African mosque, unaware he was being recorded Arafat said:

And here we are, I came and I have to speak frankly. I can’t do it alone, without the support of the Islamic Uma, I can’t do it alone. And what to say like the Jews, go and you will have to fight alone.No! You have to come, and to fight and to start the Jihad to liberate Jerusalem your first shrine. …

This agreement I am not considering it more than the agreement which had been signed between our prophet Muhhamud and Quraysh. And you remember, Caliph Omar had refused this agreement and considering the agreement of the very low class. But Muhammud had accepted it and we are accepting now this peace accord.

Naturally this caused some consternation in Israel. Yitzchak Rabin said that the remarks set back the peace effort.

At the same Jimmy Carter and Norwegian diplomats weren’t excoriating Arafat, but putting words into his mouth.

At a news conference, Mr. Arafat said his remarks — made earlier this month at a mosque in South Africa — had been wrongly interpreted, and that his reference to “jihad,” or holy war, was not a call for violence. He said the context was “I will continue my jihad for peace,” or “I will continue my jihad for Christians and Muslims and Jews to pray together in Jerusalem.” …

“He remains committed to the declaration of principles, to the end of violence,” Mr. Peres said. Mr. Carter and the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Bjorn Tore Godel, also backed Mr. Arafat, with the former President telling reporters he clearly understood the P.L.O. leader to have used “jihad” to mean a peaceful crusade.

Of course, Arafat’s phony “jihad for peace” excuse held no water. Worse, his reference to the truce with the Quraysh tribe – which couldn’t be explained away with dishonest wordplay – was just ignored. But that reference meant that he had no intention of adhering to the treaty he signed.

And Arafat showed with subsequent actions that he meant every single word he said.

A series of suicide bombings in early 1996 killed more than 60 people and injured scores more. Wasn’t Arafat supposed to stop Hamas? Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time:

The Labor Party’s idea was that it would give up the territories and contract out anti-terrorism to Yasser Arafat. It has not worked out that way. From the beginning it was obvious that Arafat was either unable or unwilling to control Hamas.

Deception is more likely. After the latest bombing, Arafat reportedly warned Hamas leaders to get out of the country before they could be arrested. They will now be free to kill again.

This should not surprise us. After all, Arafat’s occasional–and four bombings in nine days creates the occasion–denunciations of terrorism are tactical, not moral. He is upset because these bombings interrupt the “peace process,” i.e., the Israeli handover to him of territory and power. (He was supposed to get Hebron this month and start negotiating for Jerusalem in May.)

(A year later, after he became Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu withdrew from most of Judaism’s second holiest city, Hebron, doing more for the peace process than Arafat ever did.)

Ehud Barak attempted to come to a final agreement with Arafat in 2000. Arafat refused to accept the deal and then launched a terror war a few months later.

Throughout the seven years from 1993 to 2000, Arafat stalled, incited and reneged. Israel negotiated and conceded. When Arafat finally showed his true colors, it didn’t discredit the peace process that was premised on his good faith. Israel became the villain for daring to strike back and protect its population from terror. If Israel wasn’t condemned for killing terrorists who were plotting against it, it was condemned for building a barrier to prevent terrorists from reaching its territory. But through all these perfidies Israel was expected to keep working for peace.

If the United States and other countries had supported of Israel instead undermining Israel and holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for its violations maybe things would have turned out differently.

But there’s another point. Ignatius writes that its worth testing peaceful intentions of enemies. But what if the enemy behaves in a way that shows his insincerity? What if the priority is not real peace but an agreement? Consider this statement from U.S. and Israel Share a Goal in Iran Talks, but Not a Strategy in today’s New York Times:

An American involved in devising the West’s negotiating strategy said, “The Israelis want to go back to where the Iranians were a decade ago.” The American continued: “No one in the U.S. disagrees with that as a goal. The question is whether it’s achievable, and whether it’s better to have a small Iranian capacity that is closely watched, or to insist on eliminating their capacity altogether.”

What does “achievable” mean in this context? Does it mean an agreement that’s achievable? Or preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear breakout capacity? The article underlines that Israel seeks a rollback of Iran’s current capabilities (something the article helpfully tells us that Iran rejects) but that the United States believes that scrutiny and preventing Iran from developing its nuclear capabilities further is sufficient.

If the United States and the West become obsessed with achieving an agreement above all else, the negotiations are doomed to failure. The lesson from 1993, is when you’re dealing with an untrustworthy partner you must get concrete results not simply an agreement.

A further lesson for Israel is that it knows that the world won’t credit its concerns or security interests. If 1993 is the lesson for Israel, it’s that it cannot trust the world to defend it.