Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday March 1st, 2015

Given the history of the Jewish people- especially in the last century- any leader of Israel has the right, indeed the duty, to be constantly on guard against threats to the existence of the Jewish state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he believes that if Iran should obtain a nuclear weapon, Israel would face an “existential threat.”

The Prime Minister’s speech to a joint meeting of the United States Congress next Tuesday can be expected to be a full scale assault on the current international effort to resolve the Iran nuclear question through diplomacy. And to that end, he hopes to persuade substantial majorities in Congress- and among the American people- that the deal now under consideration with Iran is a danger to us all. .

House Speaker John Boehner and ideological hardliners broke totally with diplomatic protocol when without consulting the White House, they invited Mr. Netanyahu to speak to Congress knowing he would publicly trash President Barack Obama’s Iran policy. Mr. Netanyahu is being presented as an “expert witness” on the region (and implicitly a lot smarter and tougher than President Obama and his national security team.)

But when it comes to Middle East politics, Netanyahu is anything but, a dispassionate and objective witness. Given his record, it could well be argued that his very subjectivity raises questions about his judgment. When President George W., Bush was cranking up for war with Iraq, Netanyahu was an enthusiastic supporter for taking down Saddam Hussein. (A very senior former American official known to be sympathetic to the Israelis, later told me that “making the neighborhood safe for Israel” was actually one of the reasons for going into Iraq.)

In any event, Netanyahu’s and all the other rosy predictions for Iraq, turned out to be totally wrong. The neighborhood has become much less safe- in large part because of the American invasion.

It is also important to note that Netanyahu’s apocalyptic analysis of the Iran’s nuclear threat, is not widely shared by the Israeli intelligence community.

The Mossad, roughly the Israeli equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency, has repeatedly challenged Netanyahu’s interpretations of Iran’s intentions, most recently when it told members of Congress that adding more sanctions to Iran at this time- which Netanyahu strongly supported - would have the effect of “blowing-up”  the current negotiations. Since his retirement in 2011, Meir Dagan, who ran the agency for nearly a decade, has publicly led opposition to an Israeli military strike on Iran, once calling it the “stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

Other members of Israel’s security establishment have shown concern about Netanyahu’s advocacy of the military option in Iran. Yuval Diskin, former head of Israel’s Internal security Agency Shin Bet, accused Netanyahu of “messianic” political leadership in his pressing for military action. Meantime, General Benny Gantz, the just- retired Israeli military chief of staff has said decisions on Iran, “must be made carefully out of historic responsibility but without hysteria.”

The hysteria that has accompanied the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapon is based on a fear that once Iran has one, it will feel compelled to use it - because Iran is run by a bunch of religious fanatics, who will not be influenced by Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) which was the successful logic of deterrence during the Cold War.

According to this line of thinking, because Iranian zealots are quite happy to die in a nuclear war, they are impervious to the powerful nuclear force that Israel has developed secretly since the 1960’s. (American intelligence agencies continue to estimate that Israel has from 100- 200 nuclear warheads with sophisticated air, sea and missile delivery systems.)

Ehud Barak was a former Prime Minister and as Netanyahu’s Defense Minister until 2013, was a hawk on Iran. But even he doesn’t believe the zealot fairytale. “I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, are going to immediately drop it on some neighbor,” Barak said in a speech in Israel. In an apparent reference to Israel’s own nuclear deterrent, Barak went on, “They fully understand what might follow. They’re radical, but not totally ‘mishuginas’ (rough translation- stupid or crazy people.) “They have quite a sophisticated decision making process and they understand realities.”

To my mind, this concession that while the Iran may be the enemy it is basically a rational one, provides hope for finding a way out of this crisis short of another devastating Middle East War. Still, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pledged to attack the “bad deal” the United States, Russia, China, Britain France and Germany are apparently close to reaching with Iran to contain its nuclear program. And he opposes any concessions to Iran’s claims to the legal right to a non - weaponized, nuclear capability. 

This past week, Washington Post foreign affairs analyst David Ignatius reported that several leading Obama officials, “see in Netanyahu’s maximalist goals, an air of unreality - of fantasy even. They grant their solution isn’t perfect, but they argue that it is far better for Israel- and for the West than any other plausible scenario.”


According to Ignatius, American officials stress that the new agreement, “would put the Iranian program in a box, with constraints on all the pathways to making a bomb. Perhaps more important, it would provide strict monitoring and allow intrusive inspection of Iranian facilities — not just its centrifuges but its uranium mines, mills and manufacturing facilities. If Iran seeks a covert path to building a bomb, the deal offers the best hope of detecting it.”

Then comes Ignatius’ most important point. “If the current talks collapsed, all these safeguards would disappear. The Iranians could resume enrichment and other currently prohibited activities. In such a situation, the United States and Israel would face a stark choice over whether to attack Iranian facilities — with no guarantee that such an attack would set Tehran back more than a few years.”

This strikes me as the most compelling argument against the use of the military option and for an apparent diplomatic solution.

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