29 Mar 2015

Nuclear deal: Netanyahu’s call to halt ‘Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis’

The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has a good line in hyperbole.

“The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous for humanity and needs to be stopped,” he said to his cabinet this morning after meeting US politicians over the weekend.29_israel_w

Diplomats from the US and Iran, plus representatives from China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK, are meeting in the picturesque Swiss town to thrash out a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme. It’s the culmination of a twelve year process that the Israeli government has resisted from the start – the closer the deal, the more overblown Mr Netanyahu’s language.

Take the word “axis”. It evokes the “Axis powers” – Germany, Japan and Italy – in WWII. There was also George W Bush’s famous “axis of evil” speech, in which he included Iraq under Saddam Hussein, North Korea and (of course) the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Dangerous for humanity” conjures up “crimes against humanity”, and gives the impression that an agreement would imperil everyone on the planet.

“Needs to be stopped” is a call to arms, an attempt to rouse those who oppose detente with Iran into making a deal impossible.

In fact, what diplomats are trying to do in Lausanne is decrease tension and put a brake on Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran denies it’s been building a bomb but the deal would ensure that it could not do so, at least in the foreseeable future.

Sources close to the talks say it’s boiling down to two issues – how much nuclear research and development Iran will be permitted to conduct, and the timeframe for lifting UN sanctions.

Read more: Why Yemen’s political collapse matters

Yemen is a separate issue. A coalition of Arab countries has attacked Yemen, where rebels known as Houthis, allied with a deposed president, are destabilising the country. The Houthis are Shi’as, and have links with Iran, but while Israel and the Arab states are talking up Iranian involvement, US officials and experts deny that the Houthis are puppets of the Islamic State.

“The Iranian role has been greatly exaggerated in what is first and foremost a Yemeni civil war,” said Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA officer, now at the Brookings Institution.

The Saudis see Shi’a, Persian Iran as their main regional rival – for them Yemen is a proxy war. They oppose a nuclear deal because they don’t want the US, their traditional backer, making friends with their enemy.

The Israelis hate and fear Iran primarily because it arms and, to a large extent, controls Hezbollah, the armed Shi’a movement that threatens Israel from neighbouring Lebanon. Israeli politicians and generals see Hezbollah as a greater threat to Israel than Islamic State or Al Qaeda. It is not a greater threat to the US and Europe, but the Israelis like to maintain that their interests are identical to those of their western allies, even when this is patently untrue.

Here in Lausanne, the fear is what could happen if the talks fail. There would be nothing to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, should it choose to do so.

The US would likely impose further sanctions, increasing poverty and suffering in Iran. A once-in-a-generation opportunity to normalise US/Iranian relations, following the rupture of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, would be lost. And the possibility of conflict between the US and Iran, unthinkable after an agreement, would be increased.

That really would be dangerous.

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4 reader comments

  1. farhad says:

    PLEASE CORRECT: US officials and experts deny that the Houthis are puppets of “Iran” and not “the Islamic State”.

  2. Alan says:

    We hear so much bluster over Iran’s nuclear program, where is the evidence? So much emotive, agenda driven rhetoric convinces few. The article with it’s opinions appears to support such a narrative.

  3. Andrew Dundas says:

    Most interesting and thoughtful observations!
    Aren’t Putin and Netanyahu following similar strategies? Both have the exaggerated external threats to their countries, and their own robust resistance to each of them. Both have reaped benefit in their popular support amongst their fearful electors. Machiavelli should be delighted with his new pupils!

    And US Republicans have developed yet another stick with which to beat that ‘stupid’ African-American they loath so much.
    Cynical? Possibly …

    Oh what lovely war-mongering!

  4. leila says:

    Netanyahu has no right to speak against the Iranian government, he should take a hard look at his own actions against the Palestinian people.
    if anything we should all be worried about him and his far right supporters. Netanyahu has done nothing to help bring peace in the region, he is actually the cause of death and misery of millions

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