Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint-session of Congress yesterday, which about 60 Democratic members including Vice President Joe Biden boycotted. The PM got what he wanted, which was video of the American Congress giving him a standing ovation to show on TV during Israel’s general election. As a discussion of policy, it was an embarrassment.
The PM realized that the speech had driven a wedge between the parties of Israel, and he was careful to thank both Mr. Obama and the Congress for helping Israel in the past. Then, he turned his focus to the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and he invoked fear rather than reason, wishful thinking rather than fact. Nancy Pelosi said she was almost in tears at the insult the speech was to the intellect of the American people. It was worse. It was an embarrassment to the people of Israel who elected a man who could deliver such a miserable want of reasoning posing as policy.
The crux of Mr. Netanyahu’s argument was this:
My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it. Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends. A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb. A better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally.
The only thing missing in securing this better deal is Iran’s acceptance of it. If Mr. Netanyahu’s presuppositions about Iran’s intentions are correct (and they may well be), there is no reason for Iran to accept tougher conditions. Tighter sanctions are possible, of course, but Iran will simply get up from the table and suffer the harsher measures while building its Bomb.
What the opponents of the discussions fail to appreciate is that the talks are not the US with Iran only. The permanent five UN Security Council members plus Germany (P5+1) are talking to Iran, and all six of them would be bound by an agreement, not just Iran and the US. This is a vital point to understand.
If the US demands more from Iran, the chances increase that Iran walks out of the talks. That would mean that Russia, a nation that has been helping Iran with its nuclear program, would be under no restraints at all. Active collaboration by the Russians would actually help Iran go nuclear. Even a bad deal would hinder that to a degree. Russia may readily violate an agreement to advance its own interests, but it is hard to see how Russia would violate an agreement to benefit Iran.
The deal on the table is not a good one. The problem is that there are no really good choices for those who don’t want an Iranian Bomb. Absent an agreement, the US can impose sanctions which other countries can and will circumvent. The Cuba situation is the model. With an agreement, Iran might be slowed down. When push comes to shove, though, if Iran wants the Bomb, it will be able to get one.
Even with nuclear weapons, though, it is hard to see how Iran could pose an existential threat to Israel. It could incinerate Tel Aviv, but Israel is sitting on 100-200 nuclear war heads of its own, many in a German-built submarine that would easily survive a first strike. The Israeli counter-strike would render Persian culture and civilization radioactive. The mullahs certainly don’t want that. Martyrdom is always the most popular in the third person.