Yesterday, Netanyahu gave his speech to AIPAC. Netanyahu hit all the formulaic talking points needed in a speech that will resonate through the U.S. and Israeli war hawk camps. Obama, who set his feet firmly in the sand against Iran procuring nuclear weapons while not speaking against their obtaining the capability, is now rebutted by Netanyahu redrawing the line in the sand once again ahead of Obama’s feet.
I think Netanyahu’s conflation of Iran’s repressive regime and “terror proxies” with a future recklessness with nuclear weapons ignores the simple understanding of risk. Iran’s government and the Ayatollah must know that if they discharge a nuclear missile upon any state in the world, they will be blasted back to the Stone Age. Israel has always been the dominant power in the Middle East during the nuclear age. It stands to reason they would not like any challenge to this position.
Netanyahu predictably says Iran’s procurement of a nuclear weapon is near, given their enrichment of uranium to medical cancer research levels. This is a decades old act; Juan Cole unpacks Scott Peterson’s timeline of the “imminent Iran nuclear threat”, which started all the way back in 1979:
1992: Israeli member of parliament Binyamin Netanyahu predicts that Iran was “3 to 5 years” from having a nuclear weapon.
1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres predicts an Iranian nuclear warhead by 1999 to French TV.
1995: The New York Times quotes US and Israeli officials saying that Iran would have the bomb by 2000.
1998: Donald Rumsfeld tells Congress that Iran could have an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the US by 2003.
Besides foretelling the actions of a nuclear Iran, Netanyahu spouts typically hyperbolic and emotionally charged rhetoric perfect for the Republican hawk delegates and the like. A taste:
Through terror from the skies and terror on the ground, Iran is responsible for the murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans.
Just a few months ago, it tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US in a restaurant just a few blocks from here. The assassins didn’t care that several Senators and members of Congress would have been murdered in the process.
Now this is real chutzpa, Iran accuses the American government of orchestrating 9/11, and that’s as brazen as denying the Holocaust, and they do…
Iran calls for Israel’s destruction, and they work for its destruction – each day, every day.
This is how Iran behaves today, without nuclear weapons. Think of how they will behave tomorrow, with nuclear weapons. Iran will be even more reckless and a lot more dangerous.
There’s been plenty of talk recently about the costs of stopping Iran. I think it’s time we started talking about the costs of not stopping Iran.
A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella. Let me try to explain what that means, a nuclear umbrella.
It means that Iran’s terror proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas will be emboldened to attack the United States, Israel, and other countries because they will be backed by a power that has atomic weapons. So the terrorism could grow tenfold.
Bibi begins and ends his speech bringing up the spectre of the Holocaust. In the middle, he of course, refers to Iran as a country of Holocust-deniers. At the end of the speech, Netanyahu uses the cautionary tale of a letter to the World Jewish Congress proclaiming that bombing Auschwitz in 1944 would take away from operations elsewhere and may even provoke even worse treatment at the hands of the Germans. Netanyahu then goes on to say:
The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. And the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future.
Never again will we not be masters of the fate of our very survival. Never again.
That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.
Israel’s fate is to continue to be the forward position of freedom in the Middle East. The only place in the Middle East where minorities enjoy full civil rights; the only place in the Middle East where Arabs enjoy full civil rights; the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to practice their faith; the only place in the Middle East where real judges protect the rule of law.
The last bit is just particularly sickening, a proclamation only bought by a deluded ultra-Orthodoxy and its political coattails and deafening hypocrisy which only degrades the uniqueness of the state of Israel and its government.
Furthermore, Netanyahu praises the EU and U.S. sanctions which have devastated Iran’s economy in the past months. Of course much evidence points to the fact that economic sanctions do little to change a country’s policies; UK House of Lords paper. But surely Netanyahu feels immense pleasure that Iran’s financial lifelines are being strangled. Perhaps he does know that the sanctions will only force Iran’s citizens inward and create a more monolithic anti-Western sentiment, one easier to combat and use propaganda against in the public’s eyes.
President Obama’s speech to AIPAC is a lesson in their two contrasting styles. Obama’s measured statement of policy gets a ratcheting up of fear. Containment is off the table for both, but Obama leaves the choice up to Iran. Even if that choice has already been made there and there is no way an about-face will occur, the same pro-war rhetoric is not there. Efforts to pursue diplomacy may still work. A preemptive attack is not inevitable. But Netanyahu chooses to commit Israel to one path, and if that path has to be walked alone, it will be. Will these two speeches to AIPAC be a defining moment in U.S.-Israeli relations? Netanyahu’s statement of cause and intention pushes America to either stand with Israel or to stand aside.
It is not in America’s direct interests to go to war with Iran, just as it is not in America’s best interests to follow Israel’s lead wherever it dare stick its nose. Here, Gideon Levy brilliantly writes of the phenomenon that is an elephant being led by an ant. Levy ponders the questionable dynamics of the foreign relations puzzle and wonders whether the interests of America and Israel will decouple anytime soon; his conclusion is succinctly given by the article’s title and byline, It’s just a matter of time before U.S. tires of Israel: Israel doesn’t know when to stop, and it could pay dearly as a result. Levy expresses his incredulity at the relationship’s recalcitrance. While many Jewish Americans and non-establishment Israelis realize all these conclusions and want to U.S. and Israeli foreign policy to not be one in the same as fast as possible, ironically it may not be in their hands. The religious and Biblical rhetoric used by the Orthodox political factions and Netanyahu pander to the Christianist bloc in America. They see and hear the Biblical language and geographical locations set out rightfully to the Jewish by the word of God and will follow means to those ends blindly. So this faction accepts Palestinian colonization and the Zionist movement.
There will surely be more blustering from here on out, especially with renewed diplomacy back on the table according to this article. The new round of talks has not been set yet.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany agreed to a new round of nuclear talks with Iran. Previous talks have not achieved what the powers want — an end to uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. The last round of negotiations in January 2011 ended in failure.
Ashton said in a statement that the EU hopes that Iran “will now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress in resolving the international community’s long-standing concerns on its nuclear program.”