Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly today and drew attention to the obvious fraud that is the Iranian charm offensive. After a week in which the international community and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheered on by the mainstream media celebrated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate who offers a chance to end his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, Netanyahu tried to play the spoiler at the party. Yet while his arguments detailing the record of both Rouhani and the despotic regime he serves were unanswerable, his speech didn’t get much more applause than his much lampooned cartoon bomb “red line” speech got last year from the same podium. Nor is there much reason for the Iranians to believe his threats about Israel being prepared to launch a strike on its own to stop the nuclear threat. Last week’s decision by President Obama to reach out to Rouhani and to initiate yet another diplomatic process virtually ensures that Iran can laugh at Netanyahu’s vow to act alone if necessary.
Though Netanyahu and President Obama seemed to be on the same page on Iran when they met at the White House yesterday, there’s little doubt that Israel’s isolation on the issue is greater than it ever has been. The bottom line here is that as long as Obama is prepared to engage with the Iranians, no matter how transparent the falsity of Rouhani’s position or how unlikely new talks will be to produce any sort of nuclear deal, Israel is effectively disarmed. As I wrote yesterday, a new round of talks between the West and Iran is no more likely to succeed than all of the ones that preceded it. As Netanyahu said in his speech, Rouhani has bragged about his own role in Iran’s clever negotiating strategy that suckers the West into thinking they have a deal while Tehran wins more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. More such dead-end talks will enable Iran to continue to run out the clock until they can achieve their nuclear ambition.
But like his efforts to debunk the Rouhani-as-moderate theme, it’s not clear there is any reason for the ayatollahs to worry much about Netanyahu’s vows about never allowing a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction to go nuclear.
Netanyahu’s analysis of what Rouhani tried to do in New York was accurate. Though some credulous Western journalists have taken to speaking about him as if he is a latter-day Bobby Kennedy, his involvement in all of the Islamist regime’s outrages—including terrorism—during the last three decades is a matter of record. That some media outlets were even prepared to buy into the false story line that he had denounced the Holocaust was proof of how eager many Americans are to believe any lie so long as it absolves them of the obligation to do something about Iran.
That Rouhani lied on the UN podium last week about Iran’s nuclear program is not really in dispute. While experts differ as to how far away they are from nuclear capability, there is little dispute that the growing stockpiles of enriched uranium as well as their plutonium option is bringing Iran closer to the moment when they will have a bomb that will destabilize the region and threaten Israel’s existence.
But while America is talking with Iran, Israel cannot attack no matter what Netanyahu says, and he knows it. The prime minister has wisely sought to minimize conflict with President Obama but by now he has to understand that the president has no intention of confronting Iran and will always seek to avoid having to make good on his own promises to stop Tehran.
So what alternatives does Israel have at this point to waiting for Obama to come to his senses? Sadly, there are none that make any sense that I can think of.
The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens ponders this question in his column today and I agree with his analysis of the Obama administration’s intentions. As he writes, Israelis who think Obama will ever strike Iran are “fooling themselves.” But I disagree when he says that what Israel must do in response to the president’s inaction involves “downgrading relations with Washington.”
It was one thing for Netanyahu’s predecessor to ignore American advice to accept a Syrian nuclear program back in 2007 and take it out in an air attack, an example Stephens rightly cites as a correct decision on the part of Ehud Olmert. But Iran’s nuclear program presents a far more difficult target. It cannot be neatly made to disappear with a single simple surgical strike. Eliminating this threat would require an air campaign that would present enormous logistical and military problems that would strain the resources of the United States, let alone those of Israel. But even if Israel was capable of eliminating the Iranian threat on its own, doing so while the United States is engaged in negotiations with Tehran simply isn’t going to happen.
Israel can and should say no to the United States when its security is at stake. Nor should it, as Stephens says, worry much about gaining international approval. That is never going to happen because of factors that are rooted more in anti-Semitism than any disapproval of Israeli policies.
Yet as frustrating as America’s dalliance with Iran may be, cutting itself loose from its alliance with the United States isn’t an option for Israel any more than ridiculous proposals being floated elsewhere for Jerusalem to upgrade its ties with China in the hope of creating some positive leverage over Washington. American support for the Jewish state is embedded in this country’s political DNA and is more proof of American exceptionalism. It cannot be duplicated anywhere else on the globe.
Stephens is right when he says the current situation leaves Israel reliant on Iranian hard-liners to sabotage any nuclear deal. That may not be much of a strategy, but it may prove true since it is unlikely that even so-called moderates like Rouhani have any intention of giving up Iran’s nuclear program.
But until the moment when the U.S. administration wakes up to the Rouhani ruse, Israel has little choice but to stand by and wait and worry. So long as they’ve got Obama swallowing Rouhani’s bait, the Iranians have little to fear from Israel. That’s bad news for Netanyahu and Israel. But it is just as sobering for Americans who realize that despite Obama’s tough rhetoric about Iran, what the administration is doing is bringing us closer to the day when Tehran will go nuclear.