Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a long-anticipated, diplomatically unprecedented, political kerfuffle of a campaign speech, the circumstances of which were arguably unconstitutional.
In case you didn’t sit through the 40+ minute address, the one sentence version is this: The Prime Minister did his best to both thwart American nuclear talks with Iran and scare Israeli voters into granting him what is shaping up to be a tight reelection. If you want the full dose of diplomatic hijinks, feel free to watch below:
Netanyahu led off his speech by insisting that his decision to accept an invitation from John Boehner, without consulting the President, to speak to a predominantly Republican crowd of legislators two weeks before Israeli Election Day, was not political. Because, of course, he wants nothing more than the safety and security of Israel and its allies.
Except that after delivering a longwinded reminder of how bad Iran, the Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah are — in case we were somehow confused as to how they feel about Jewish and secular democracies — he all but ruled out the least-bad solution currently on the table for ensuring the safety and security of Israel and its allies: diplomacy.
To be sure, Netanyahu said in his speech that he doesn’t want a war with Iran. But he also doesn’t believe that the deal being worked out to avoid a war is going to work. He doesn’t believe that inspectors will get to inspect, and he doesn’t believe that agreements to freeze nuclear activity will actually freeze nuclear activity. After all, despite what his own military intelligence might say, he is convinced that Iran is motivated by jihad, not foreign policy realism. In other words, we can’t trust them to play by rules they agree to.
So what’s left? In his own words, “The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.” A deal in which Iran magically gives up more than it already has in exchange for less than we have already offered.
Setting aside for the moment that this is what the proposed ten-year freeze on Iran’s nuclear activity would do— put the country’s nuclear program on hold long enough to get a better deal — banging on the table and yelling “Negotiate better!” doesn’t add anything to the conversation.
Instead, it gives Congressional Republicans political cover to reject any Obama-orchestrated nuclear deal with Iran. If an agreement can’t be reached, it gives the country more time to escalate its program, which would make any future diplomatic solution that much harder to achieve.
Benjamin Netanyahu has a history of being a cynically hawkish on foreign policy, having ruled out a fully-fledged two-state solution in the West Bank and Gaza last year. More relevant to yesterday’s speech, he has an even longer history of telling the world how close Iran is to obtaining a nuclear weapon. As Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept notes, Netanyahu started ringing the alarm bells on an Iranian nuke in 1995, and hasn’t claimed that the country was anything more than three years away from a bomb since.
Taking the sum total of Netanyahu’s arguments — Islamic regimes are incompatible with secular and Jewish states, Iran can’t be trusted to uphold their ends of bargains and this particular nuclear negotiation will all but guarantee nuclear winter in Jerusalem and beyond — the logical conclusion is this: Benjamin Netanyahu wants Iran wiped off the map. He even alluded to his willingness to do so, noting toward the end of his address that, “as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
That’s a defensible position: If diplomacy really can’t keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, forcibly removing their nuclear capability would be our next option. But the operative word there is “next.” War is supposed to be a last resort. By making his speech, and making it in the way that he did, Netanyahu has thrown a wrench in the diplomatic works, unnecessarily and irresponsibly increasing the likelihood of another military involvement in the Middle East — one that would be financed with American dollars and lives.
Benjamin Netanyahu helped rush us into war with Iraq, and now he wants to rush us into war with Iran. As Barak Ravid noted in 2012, after Netanyahu’s infamous “red-line” speech that (surprise) outlined Iran as being inches away from a nuclear bomb, his arguments have never changed — only the countries in which he wants to see American troops.
That doesn’t make anyone safer; it just makes him a neocon.