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March 3, 2015 6:54 pm

Netanyahu Nails the Fundamental Problem With Iran

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Federal legislators applaud Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.

I have to confess that I was disappointed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference this year. I felt that it was bland, packed with tired talking points, lacking in strategic direction, and generally uninspiring.

Not so with Netanyahu’s speech to Congress the following day, which was a barnstormer. In its immediate aftermath, there were the standard idiocies in response, but that was to be expected. One that caught my eye was the utterance of CNN‘s Gloria Borger that Netanyahu’s reference to the Holocaust was “electioneering”—as insulting as leveling the same accusation towards an African-American politician who mentions slavery. Another came from House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who declared, “I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech, saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States”—a statement that itself insults the intelligence of the U.S., because if Bibi demonstrated anything, it’s that he respects and loves America, and he doesn’t want an error of historic proportions over Iran to drive a wedge through this country’s relationship with Israel.

What Netanyahu proved definitively in Congress, which he didn’t do at the AIPAC meeting, is that the current deal that the Obama administration is so keen to cut with Iran will result in the world’s principal sponsor of terrorism, and the main strategic threat to the entire Middle East, weaponizing its nuclear program. Iran is, as Netanyahu put it, “a dark and brutal dictatorship”—and no more of these regimes should ever possess weapons of mass destruction. (I say “no more” because North Korea—in part because of American diplomatic ineptitude—already has nuclear weapons.)

What’s striking is that Netanyahu had to remind us of the nature of the Iranian regime in the first place. One of the problems with the current public discourse around Iran in this country is the tendency to normalize the regime, and to elide or ignore its fundamental violations of basic human rights. Iran even has its apologists, like the left-wing Jewish pundit Peter Beinart, who outright lied in a column for The Atlantic with this claim that, “Iran isn’t doing truly reckless things like invading a Saudi ally in the Persian Gulf or launching chemical or biological weapons at Israel.” Really? Iran now controls Yemen and, to an ever-greater extent, Iraq. It is the main sponsor of Hezbollah. And it is the primary reason that the Assad regime in Syria, which has used chemical and biological weapons against its own populace, remains in power.

Now, I realize that for those like Beinart and his ilk, who believe that the only human rights that matter are those of the Palestinians, arguments like those advanced by Netanyahu in Congress will never shake their predispositions. But for the rest of us—the vast majority—the reminder that Iran’s regime is fundamentally evil, in the same manner that Saddam Hussein’s regime was evil and the North Korean regime remains evil, is a welcome counterbalance to the myth of moderation being pushed by the White House.

On a philosophical level, Netanyahu also underlined that the notion of trust in international relations does not have a one-size-fits-all meaning. Light years separate the trust that defines American relations with Canada from American relations with Iran. In our bilateral relations with Canada, we begin from an assumption of trust, whereas with Iran, we begin—or, at least, we used to—from an assumption of deep, empirically verifiable suspicion that stretches all the way back to 1979, when the newly established Islamist regime’s thugs seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

There were two other strategic points made by Netanyahu that are worth highlighting. The first concerns the current fight against the terrorists of Islamic State and how that impacts negotiations with Iran. As Netanyahu put it, in this particular section of the Middle East, “my enemy’s enemy is my enemy.” The strikes against Islamic State reluctantly launched by the Obama administration, after thousands of Christians and Yazidis had already been massacred or enslaved, should not mean a de facto alliance with Iran, and should not encourage the belief that a region dominated by Iran is preferable to a region dominated by Sunni jihadis. Yes, there are different schools of Islamism that compete, often violently, with each other, but the foundational worldview stretches across sectarian and theological divides: hatred of America, hatred of Israel, and the conviction that Jewish power is the ultimate enemy is what connects the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood with the Shi’a Basij militia, regardless of whatever else separates them.

The second point is that Netanyahu did not—despite the signs being brandished outside the AIPAC convention by anti-Israel demonstrators, who were at their most insane and vicious level this year—come to the U.S. with a call to wage war on Iran. In fact, you might even argue that what was historic about his speech was that we saw an Israeli leader calling for a negotiated deal with Iran; just not the one that is currently on the table. And this would be a deal that would compel the Iranians to stick by their declared objective of having a nuclear program for civilian purposes only. What that means is proper and unfettered monitoring, the complete unveiling of further clandestine facilities, and appropriate measures to prevent a nuclear weapons breakout—whether now, 10 years from now, or a hundred years from now.

That is the only deal that makes sense for the Arab states, for Israel, for Europe, for the U.S., and for the West in general. It is one that the Iranians are free to agree to. Yet even Obama is now starting to concede that such an outcome is unrealistic; as he told the Reuters news agency, “I would say that it is probably still more likely than not that Iran doesn’t get to ‘yes,'” adding revealingly that a deal two or three years from now is even less probable. (That suggests the president wants to leave office with a deal with Iran— any deal—as part of his legacy.)

If Obama’s instincts are correct, and we don’t reach a deal, then we will go back to a tough sanctions regime against Tehran. If that happens, our strategy should not simply be to isolate Iran. Those sanctions should be part of a package that will encourage and enable the Iranian people to repeat their heroism of 2009, by rising up against this hated regime and, this time, overthrowing it.

That would be the best deal of all.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

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  • Barry

    From a comment in Legal Insurrection it was pointed out that with nuclear weapons Iran could close the Red Sea to traffic and blackmail the world’s industries.
    This point was unfortunately not made by Netanyahu.

  • Yale

    Obama injected politics into this matter because he needs that as a red herring to distract attention from the disastrous deal he is about to conclude with Iran, an agreement that will give them America’s blessing for developing nuclear weapons, in ten years if they actually abide by it.

    This deal is a travesty and a betrayal of the oaths the President and every member of Congress have taken to protect America because when Iran has the bomb, they will use it on us; that’s what “death to America” is about. Barack Obama will perhaps be long since gone when that happens and will deny responsibility, but it must be laid squarely at his feet. That he has announced that he would veto any effort by Congress to stop this bad deal he is making, and ignore a law passed over his veto on this matter, indicates clearly that he simply isn’t interested in allowing anyone who disagrees with him to be heard.

    I suspect Speaker Boehner’s invitation came out of the frustration that members of Congress must feel from having to deal with a President who feels no obligation to comply with the Constitution, or to work with Congress. It is precisely this that has supercharged the partisanship during the Obama administration. Speaker Boehner may have believed that inviting Netanyahu was the last hope of getting the President to step back and see what he is doing in giving the Iranians his blessing to build nuclear weapons, because that is exactly what this deal will do.

    Republican leaders went to the White House to tell Richard Nixon that he had to leave when Nixon had done far less to undermine the rule of law than Barack Obama has. It is time for Democrats to show they value the rule of law, the Constitution, and the welfare of the country more highly than they value power for the Democratic Party.

  • kafantaris2

    The real damage Netanyahu has done to Israel is that he prompted ordinary Americans to ask, “Why are the U.S. and Israel so close?”

  • Mordechai Siegal

    this article is really so beautiful that i like it very much. i wish president obama should go back to school to study history about world war two that hitler met with french challenchor to sign peace treaty before hitler made biggest surprise to attack france and other countries within a few days. the peace treaty means nothing and i am sure that hitler laughed inside his heart without world knowledge to think we are dumb again. i suggest that obama and his inner circle should be arrested for treasons and must go to jail forever otherwise it would cost millions of people’s lives.

  • Iran committed an act of hostility against the United States that has been forgotten. In 1979, 52 American diplomats were captured. They were held hostage for 444 days.
    Is Iran a friend of the United States?

  • richard sherwin

    again, very well summarized. thanks.

  • theo

    An all round excellently conceived address for all the reasons mentioned above and more
    The traps that were set by the Obama lot ,such as Netanyahu exposing as yet non revealed data ,was not done
    It is not surprising that the comments coming out of Arab sources are encouraging
    It remains to be seen how Obama will react to Iran’s rejection of his 10 year moratorium of nuclear status

  • Howie Subnick

    Ben Cohen, thank God for people like you who understand.
    Stay well and God Bless You!

  • June Grant

    Excellent summary of Netanyahu’s speeches, especially the one to Congress. Let’s hope that Obama did hear it, even though not in person.

  • For thousands of years the land of Israel lay in ruin.
    Undeveloped, no industry, sheep farmers, no oil, etc.
    In 1948 when Jews were reinstated, not transplanted as some ignorant person referred to them, the land began to blossom. Only with coming wealth did the land of Israel become more and more of interest to the Arabs who suffer from chronic infighting, economic mismanagement and growth in personal wealth at the top by ensuring the world has ample greenhouse gases. For those illiterates who dot know, it is a historical fact that the Jews were expelled from the land of Israel by, among others, the Romans, your Christian predecessors. Anyone who disputes this is blind or chooses to be blind. So for all of you that dislike and bias against the Jews and Israelis for whatever reason, whether you call it anti-Semitic, ignorant or whatever, the land belongs to Jews and it is the so called Arab-Palestinians who have a claim to it that is based not in fact but in false history and journalism. With all their resources, with all their history, with all their financial power and wealth, the Arab nations have individually (except in the case of a few Gulf states) shown themselves time and again as being incapable of governing themselves without wars, massacres, infighting, suicide bombing themselves and blaming everyone else for their problems. And now these Zealots in Iran will control the nuclear switch and who will they point it at? Has one leader pointed a wagging finger at Iran, Hizbullah, Fatah and Hamas’ constant barrage of existential threats not just towards Israel but Jews anywhere and infidels. They have stated publicly that Jews anywhere are military targets of these devil re-incarnates wherever they are. Regardless of their so called reasons and justifications they threaten to annihilate Jews anywhere (Europe, India, Argentina, South America, Russia). Tourists, kids, babies. You godless false writers have the nerve to gloss over those events and not even wave your fingers at the perpetrators. You ignore the beheading by ISIS. So if that’s not Jew hating bold faced anti-Semitism then I am not sure what is. So I hope you can somehow find it in your warped brains polluted with hatred and delusion, that for all of you mourn for the Arab-Palestinians that perhaps you take a moment to consider the hypocrisy and absurdity of your positions. You cannot mask the hatred. You cannot hid your evil. You cannot ignore the terror and violence. You cannot ignore the subjugation of the masses and the brainwashing of their children with hate and violence as a means to an end.

  • steven L

    Obama will not play hard ball with Iran and will dump the Iranian people again and again. His real target is America. America needs a radical transformation. Iran is already RADICAL!

  • Wesley Dodds

    I agree with most of what the author states here, except for one point: is Iran the number supporter of terrorism? Decades ago, I might have said yes. But today? What about Pakistan and unquestionable support of terrorism, providing safe harbor to Osama Bin Laden, other terrorists, and with Pakistan terrorists working with British terrorists to plan attacks on the U.S. homeland? I think the real difficulty is: who isn’t a supporter of terrorism in the greater Middle East – Pakistan, KSA, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran (of course), Syria, Iraq, and then African nations like Somalia, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria. Furthermore, some of the greatest terrorist threats in recent years have come from the United Kingdom. So I agree that the terrorist nation of Iran should of course be denied nuclear weapons, but I think perhaps there needs to be a larger argument of mass casualty terrorist containment, of which Iran is a key part, but is not the only part. Looking at Iran alone and suggesting it is the primary threat doesn’t make sense to some people.

  • Michael Garfinkel

    Ben Cohen is hoping for miracles.

    “…enable the Iranian people to repeat their heroism of 2009, by rising up against this hated regime and, this time, overthrowing it.

    That would be the best deal of all.”

  • Fred

    It was a good speech ,quite compelling & straight forward.

  • Efram

    Very well put. But with an Islamist in the White House, he will do as he chooses, and his choice is to give Iran nuclear weapons, which is also his dream. If anybody can still stop him it is congress, if they choose to act. But with Obama worshipers such as Pelosi, it does not look good.

  • Sue

    I watched him. He was fabulous. I am canceling my NYtimes subscription for their hatred of Israel and obvious support of bds and code pink.

    I am begging everyone to stop buying the tomes. They really do hate Israel

  • Ann Ginsburgh Hofkin

    The title of this article is misleading – the import is correct and entirely different in implication from the title.