Prime Minister Netanyahu has been more vocal than any of his predecessors about the ‘looming Iranian danger,’ insisting that any agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will amount to nothing more than a technical pause. He has been rallying members of Congress to impose additional crippling sanctions on Iran, hoping that the mounting economic pressure will precipitate a regime change, or at a minimum, force the current regime to abandon its ambition to acquire nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu has convinced himself that President Obama’s ‘eagerness’ to strike a deal with Iran would leave Israel vulnerable, even though the President has forcefully and repeatedly made it clear that under no circumstances will he strike a deal that can remotely undermine Israel’s national security.
Netanyahu, with wide Republican support in Congress, contends that notwithstanding Iran’s change of tone, its apparent willingness to cooperate, and insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, Iran is a wolf in sheep’s clothing determined to achieve its nuclear goal, however long that might take.
Tehran has already secured two principle demands: enriching uranium on its soil and limiting any new agreement to a number of years. From Netanyahu’s perspective, this is a recipe for disaster, as Iran would subsequently be free to pursue its nuclear weapon program.
Netanyahu maintains that even though Khamenei has repeatedly stated that he is against the building of nuclear weapons, Khamenei distinguishes between the possession of nuclear weapons and having the technology and materials to assemble one in short order, which amounts to the same thing.
The problem here is that Netanyahu does not believe that President Obama will demand an airtight longer-term agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Even though the US has kept Israel informed about the substance of the negotiations with Iran, Netanyahu spared no efforts to rally Congress to legislate a new set of sanctions that could only derail the negotiations.
Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation by House Speaker Boehner to address a joint session of Congress to rebut President Obama’s Iran strategy is misguided and terribly damaging to US and Israeli strategic interests.
For Netanyahu to ignore protocol and notify the White House only after he accepted the invitation and refused to rescind it, is a slap in the face of the President who has done more than any of his predecessors to safeguard Israel’s security.
Netanyahu has ignored every appeal from the media, leaders of Jewish organizations, Israel’s European friends, and many others to cancel his trip, if for no other reason but for Israel’s sake.
To be sure, Netanyahu has disgraced Israel and undermined its crucial relations with the most important ally that stood by it, rain or shine, and remains its ultimate defender.
Being that the US has and continues to be the ultimate guarantor of Israel’s national security, it defies logic that the US would allow any loopholes in a new long-term agreement that would in any way endanger Israel at a later date.
Netanyahu knows too well that should Iran violate the new agreement, and if it were determined that the use of force is necessary to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, only the US can undertake such an extreme measure.
Furthermore, even if Netanyahu loses his mind and decides to attack Iran on his own, the US will still be dragged in because Israel does not have the military capability to embark on such an awesome undertaking without US support, given the likely horrifying regional consequences.
By what logic does Netanyahu have the chutzpah to second-guess the US and act in a reckless and appalling manner, which can only damage Israel’s sacred ties with the US to score some political points at home, especially at election time?
Netanyahu knows better than most people that without the US’ political, military, and economic support, Israel could not have existed, let alone become a regional powerhouse in all walks of life.
A responsible Israeli prime minister must work closely with the US to produce an airtight deal and rally his allies in Congress to work toward that end, instead of trying to torpedo an agreement that could, at least potentially, eliminate the Iranian threat.
To begin with, the US must make it clear that it will not hesitate to impose additional crippling sanctions with the full support of Congress if Iran continues to drag its feet. The agreement should include the following provisions:
Iran’s technical ability to construct a nuclear weapon must be curtailed by a significant reduction in the number of centrifuges, and restrictions must be placed on the installation of advanced ones.
Iran’s plutonium-production capability at Arak must permanently be disabled, and strict limits must be imposed on the quality and quantity of the production of enriched uranium.
The US should insist that Iran end its research and development of its ballistic missile program, which could threaten Israel, and agree on the most unfettered, intrusive, and unannounced inspections regime.
The Mullahs must be persuaded that the US is prepared to resort to the military option to stop Iran’s drive to become a nuclear state by remaining militarily vigilant throughout the Gulf. Finally, the agreement should be effective for at least 10 years.
Netanyahu must understand that the eventual normalization of relations between the US and Iran is the best way by which to eliminate the Iranian threat. Therefore, if there is any chance, however small, that such an agreement will stand the test of time, it must be explored.
The alternative is leaving Iran free to redouble its effort to reach the nuclear threshold, forcing the US to choose between the lesser of two evils: to contain Iran (which is costly, dangerous, and prone to instability), or attack its nuclear facilities, which will further destabilize the region and undermine rather than enhance Israel’s national security.
Notwithstanding the accolades Netanyahu may receive from the floor of Congress, he has betrayed what is best for Israel. The Israeli electorate must remember this as they cast their votes come election day.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for
Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies.