Netanyahu and Trump Must Confront Iran, Global Threats
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met today with President Donald Trump. While the two leaders had a full agenda to cover — including international terrorism, the ongoing carnage in Syria and Israel’s continuing efforts to find peace with its neighbors — Iran’s nuclear-weapons program undoubtedly dominated their discussions.
Rightly so. Iran’s long-standing program to develop deliverable nuclear weapons is a palpably existential threat to Israel and friendly Arab states in the Middle East. Joint Iranian-North Korean work on missiles and, quite likely, on nuclear matters demonstrates that the threat is truly worldwide
Just before he met last week with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu told Israel’s cabinet that the West needed to take a “common stand” against “Iranian aggression.” Unfortunately, after Barack Obama’s fatally flawed June 2015 Vienna nuclear deal with the ayatollahs, the West has been badly divided. The Vienna agreement’s elimination of economic sanctions against Iran has enticed Europeans in particular to enter extensive trade and investment dealings with Tehran. This is precisely what Iran intended: to make it difficult, if not impossible, to restore meaningful international sanctions once the West realized its basic strategic mistake in striking the deal.
As long as Obama remained president, Iran’s nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs had little to fear. President Trump, however, has changed all that. The new administration’s tough rhetoric and renewed sanctions have demonstrated that critics of Obama’s appeasement policy have taken command in Washington. They now face the question of how to pull the United States out of the hole into which Obama put it — and how to do so as soon as possible.
Accordingly, Trump and Netanyahu can make progress toward accomplishing several objectives. First, they should fashion a diplomatic strategy to reconstitute the West’s common political resolve to prevent the ayatollahs from ever getting nuclear weapons. Strong rhetoric, military maneuvering and economic sanctions all have their place, but even the now-defunct sanctions regime had not slowed down Iran’s nuclear and missile efforts. Putting a tough-minded Western coalition against Iran back together will be hard work, but it is both vital and urgent.
Second, and to that end, Israel and America must enhance their intelligence-gathering capabilities and cooperation. We already know that Iran has significantly shredded the Vienna deal’s provisions regarding heavy-water production and missile testing. Since the ayatollahs’ project to obtain deliverable nuclear weapons has been an animating desire of their regime since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, we can safely assume that they are still at it, and that they are likely violating many other provisions of the Vienna deal.
We can also infer that Obama gave very low priority to uncovering and investigating Iranian breaches. Undoubtedly, there is fertile ground for Trump and the Israeli government to compare notes on what nefarious actions Iran has taken since the Vienna deal.
Moreover, we know that Iran and North Korea, the two leading rogue states, have cooperated for more than 25 years on ballistic missiles, and there is compelling anecdotal evidence that they are similarly cooperating on nuclear matters. Working with South Korea, Japan and others, America and Israel must do far more to investigate these potential linkages.
Third, Trump and Netanyahu must address how to eradicate ISIS without enhancing Iran’s influence across the Middle East. Obama’s approach to ISIS, a slow-motion campaign that could have taken years to reach its objectives, actually strengthened Tehran’s hand in the region, along with its surrogates and allies, such as Hezbollah, the Assad regime and the current Baghdad government. Even if ISIS could be ultimately defeated under Obama’s approach, Iran would emerge the real victor. Trump has already ordered the Pentagon to review US military options.He should develop a comprehensive political framework into which the new military strategy will fit.
The Trump presidency has the potential to change overnight the last eight years of American retreat from the Middle East and from the great global threats of our time, such as nuclear proliferation. Not all of these problems could have been or were resolved in one meeting, but the importance of the encounter between Netanyahu and Trump cannot be overemphasized.
John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the US permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.
This article was originally published by The Pittsburgh Tribune Review.