Published in The Jerusalem Post  and Israel Hayom , January 23, 2015.
Netanyahu should be applauded for the initiative to speak forthrightly on the Iranian threat in Congress next month. He believes with every bone in his body that the contours of Obama’s emerging deal with Iran are dangerous for the world and existentially disastrous for Israel. Halting Iran’s nuclearization and hegemonic advances – and protecting Israel from Obama’s ruinous Middle East policies relating to Iran, the Palestinians and the Arab upheavals – has been the raison d’être of Netanyahu’s almost-decade long tenure as prime minister. It’s called leadership.
Nobody should expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to back down from confronting President Obama on the Iranian nuclear issue. Just the opposite: Now is the time for Israel to make its stand against the emerging American sellout to Iran.
Iran has clandestinely crossed every red line set by the West over the past 20 years – putting secret and underground nuclear plants online, building heavy water facilities, refining massive amounts of uranium, working on explosive triggers and warheads, developing long-range missiles, lying to international inspectors, and generally breaching all its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Yet the U.S. has dialed back its demands of Iran every year since Barack Hussein Obama entered the White House – to the point where today Washington is talking about “détente” with Iran. Obama’s determined dash to embrace the Iranians is proceeding despite Iran’s unwillingness to end its military nuclear program; despite that country’s imperialistic, hegemonic nature; despite Iran’s complicity in the Syrian carnage and the growth of ISIS; and despite Iran’s intensifying involvement in front-line warfare against Israel.
Consider just how far the U.S. has retreated. When Obama got started, the international community was united behind a position that Iran had no right to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel under any circumstances and that its plutonium plant at Arak must be dismantled. Candidate Obama vowed that he would work to “end” Iran’s nuclear program and “deny” Iran a nuclear weapon.
Since then, however, Obama has essentially conceded an Iranian “right” to a nuclear enrichment program and to the centrifuge infrastructure for such. He is no longer addressing Tehran’s plutonium option and its ballistic missile program. He has clearly backed away from the commitment to stop Iran from having the capability to produce nuclear weapons, and seems prepared to let Iran rest at the point where it is several turns of the screwdriver away from the assembly of an actual bomb.
In short, Obama has decided to allow Iran to remain a nuclear threshold power. He is enticing a slowdown in Iran’s nuclear effort, without dismantling the Iranian infrastructure for producing a bomb. He is getting ready to herald this as the grand foreign policy breakthrough that caps his presidency, avoids war, restructures America’s relationships in the Middle East, and saves the world.
In a surreal NPR interview earlier this month, Obama incredulously spoke of Iran becoming “a very successful regional power that abides by international norms and international rules.” It’s a wonderful notion, if you live in la-la land and can miraculously ignore Iran’s extremist ideological nature and aggressive actions.
In the process, Obama has frittered away the only hard pressure tool on Iran that the world had, by granting Iran overwhelming, disproportionate and almost-irreversible relief from global economic sanctions.
SO IT’S NO SURPRISE that leveler heads, such as Republican leaders in Congress, are stepping-forward to rebuild some muscle in U.S. policy towards Iran. The Kirk-Menendez bill before Congress would judiciously impose deadline-triggered sanctions against Iran across a six month period if no reasonable deal is reached by July of this year.
It’s an intelligent plan; a plan that might coerce Iran into a diplomatic agreement that truly halts its nuclear program. Except that Obama is afraid of offending the Iranians, and is vociferously opposed to the sanctions. He thinks that coddling, not coercing, the Iranians, will lead to a better deal. So much so that Obama has threatened to veto the sanctions legislation, and has resorted to anti-Semitic tropes in attacking Congress for advancing it.
At a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats in Baltimore last week, in front of Senator Robert Menendez, Obama charged that those congressmen favoring such the sanctions bill were doing so only to please “donors.” Everybody understood this to mean Jewish and pro-Israel donors. Menendez valiantly stood up and said he took “personal offense,” since he too – not just the imperious Obama – has America’s strategic interests as his uppermost concern.
But Obama didn’t back away from the incendiary, insidious import of his statement – that Jewish money and the pro-Israel lobby are playing a distorting and disloyal role in the Iran policy debate. It makes me shudder to think that the ugly Mearsheimer-Walt mindset may have embedded itself in Obama’s brain.
HERE ENTERS Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. He believes with every bone in his body that the contours of Obama’s emerging deal with Iran are dangerous for the world and existentially disastrous for Israel. Halting Iran’s nuclearization and hegemonic advances – and protecting Israel from Obama’s ruinous Middle East policies relating to Iran, the Palestinians and the Arab upheavals – has been the raison d’être of Netanyahu’s almost-decade long tenure as prime minister.
Netanyahu is right to demand nothing less than a complete dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear program, including an end to all uranium enrichment; removal of all stockpiles of enriched uranium; dismantlement of the infrastructure for a nuclear breakout capability, including the underground facility near Qom and the advanced centrifuges in Natanz; and a halt to the construction of the heavy water reactor in Arak aimed at the production of plutonium.
Any deal that scales back sanctions and allows Iran to keep operating its advanced nuclear development facilities even at a low-level – is a fatal bargain.
Netanyahu is furthermore correct to demand that Washington insist on limits to Iran’s ballistic missile program, and the scaling back of Iran’s terror-warfare against Israel such as the arming of Hezbollah and Hamas. (Just what was an Iranian general doing with Hezbollah on the Syrian Golan this week?!)
Washington should not be glossing over these issues when discussing “détente” with Iran. Yet worryingly, that seems to be exactly what Obama is doing.
Some pundits have suggested that Netanyahu’s determination to make Israel’s voice heard in the US debate over sanctions and the coming deal with Iran does a disservice to Israel, because in doing so, Netanyahu cynically scans as a Republican tool to the 80 percent of American Jews who identify as Democrats or progressives. And that this will lead to further American Jewish “distancing” from Israel.
Well, ain’t that too bad. There may be an Israel-Diaspora cost here, but Netanyahu’s assessment of the Iranian danger and of Obama’s errors is well-founded. He is perfectly within his rights and mandate – indeed, it’s his obligation – to put Israel’s security ahead of other considerations, including the important feelings of US Jews.
Other pundits have pointed to a “Mossad assessment” that also opposes the proposed new sanctions on Iran. Except that the supposed “Mossad assessment” floated to fore via an unconfirmed foreign media report, from one source, and was probably planted by the Obama administration. And the Mossad director has denied the report.
But even if true, so what? It’s no surprise that there are different assessments in the Israeli policy and intelligence community as to Iran, as to the negotiation, as to sanctions, and so on. If Mossad came down on one side of this issue, it’s very possible that IDF military intelligence came down on a different side. But readers of this paper wouldn’t know that, because the forces opposed to Netanyahu had an interest in leaking only one view.
The Israeli public and Diaspora Jews should thank Netanyahu for standing clear and strong on the Iranian issue all these years, and applaud him for the initiative to speak forthrightly on these issues in Congress next month. It’s called leadership.