Published on 3 Mar 2015

Why Netanyahu wants to scupper a US deal with Iran

Today Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will give a dramatic speech to the US Congress outlining how within months Iran could build a nuclear weapon. It would sound more frightening if he and other Israeli leaders hadn’t been predicting similar time frames for more than 20 years.

Back in 1992, when he was an MP, Mr Netanyahu predicted that Iran would have the bomb “within three to five years”. 1997 came and went with no Iranian bomb but more similar predictions. I have attended numerous briefings with Israel defence ministers who earnestly warn that within six months Iran will be a nuclear power. Six months later they say the same.

Israel's PM Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington

Binyamin Netanyahu addresses AIPAC in Washington, 2 March 2015 (Reuters)

Recent leaks of Mossad cables suggest that the intelligence service’s assessment is far less alarmist than that of the politicians.

US-led negotiations appear to have succeeded persuading the Iranians to slow down their nuclear programme as the two sides draw closer to a potential agreement. There’s now a real possibility that by the end of this month the “Great Satan” and the Islamic republic will be on a path of cooperation after 35 years of enmity.

So why is Netanyahu so determined to scupper the deal? The answer lies in geography. A few months back I asked retired Israeli General Michael Herzog which he saw as the bigger threat, Isis or Iran? Iran, he said, explaining that Israel’s most vulnerable border is with Lebanon. Hezbollah, the powerful Shia militia armed and backed by Iran, is just a few hundred yards away across the razor wire, poised to attack the Jewish state, as it did in 2006. Isis is a more distant threat with no easy access to Israel. The greatest fear of the Jewish state is some kind of nuclear weapon falling into the hands of Hezbollah.

The US and Europe would welcome detente with Iran, partly because they’re on the same side in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq. They define Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation but these days it doesn’t threaten the US or western Europe – its target is Israel. Isis, with its jihadi recruits from western capitals, is a much more immediate threat. This is a sectarian struggle, and arguably the west’s interests lie with Shia Iran, the Middle Eastern state most actively combatting Sunni jihadis.

So this is an occasion when Israel’s interests do not align with those of the USA, however loud the bluster of the Israeli prime minister in Washington today.

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4 reader comments

  1. Ezra Pound's Ghost says:

    Netanyahu and the nation he represents are dangerous parasites that pose a mortal threat to the American nation.

  2. Ian says:

    Much of what we see reported always comes with the Israeli bias, as it has done for a very long time. The “war” with Lebanon in 2006 was the fault of the Israelis, as the aggressor, and Hezbollah as always protecting their land. As for ISIS, Israel has been providing them arms, intel and aid from day 1, and cooperation between ISIS fighters and Israeli forces at the border has even been reported by UN monitors on the ground.
    The whole issue they have with Iran, is that Iran refuses to bow down to Israel and poses a threat to the Israeli land grabs, by arming Hezbollah, a defence militia, and also by having a non-US installed and approved leadership. Let us not forget, the whole reason Iran became the Islamic state it is now was due to the US and UK overthrowing their elected government in the first place, and installing the brutal regime that brought about the Islamic revolution. In other words, we created the mess in the first place.
    Netanyahu has been singing the same tune for nearly 3 decades. It’s all he has as his government sinks lower and lower towards implosion, thus he wants the rest of us to attack Iran for him. Alternatively, he may decide to attack Israel, then cry victim and have the US, UK and others step in to protect against any reprisal. So, who is the danger here?

  3. helen says:

    Who attacked Lebanon? Israel did not only the once.Why did Hezbollah arrive as a fighting force because of being attacked by Israel.

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    Mitch McConnell said it all. That was in 2009. McConnell declared that the aim of Republicans was to ensure that the Obama administration was unable to achieve anything. [McConnell was then the leader of the Republicans]. John Boehner has carried on where McConnell left off.
    That prime strategy was to ensure by any means that President Obama became a ‘failure’ and only able to survive for a single 4 year term. [Which goes a long way towards explaining the opposition the ‘Obama Care’, Tax Reform and the shut-downs of government administration. But I digress].
    Fast forward to the present day. How to ensure an Obama ‘failure’ ahead of the 2016 presidential election?
    One black cloud looming for Republicans is the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran signed up and running before Hillary Clinton’s campaign – ending more than two decades of animosity and fear. The thought of the first woman president following the first black President is just too much to bear. That ‘nuclear deal’ must be rubbished in advance and, if at all possible, stalled in both Israel and the Congress. How to do that?
    A simple answer is to switch the potential defeat of the Israeli premier into a propaganda coupe for the Republicans by inviting Netanyahu to address Congress with an anti-Iran speech that claims Israel is in peril from a naive Obama concession. Result is that Netanyahu gets TV coverage of his personal triumph in the US Congress (a fortnight before his election), and the Republicans get peak-time TV coverage of a speech condemning Obama’s policy as reckless. No matter that the Congress speech actually nudges Iran towards that deal. What matters to both parties – Republican and Likud – is that the Netanyahu speech helps both political parties gather more votes in their forthcoming elections. Does it ever get better than this?

    What’s needed here is less benign attention to politics as if it were the choice of useful policy priorities. We often need to see politics as simply the art of winning. Given a straight choice, the easy way to achieve that is by attacking the ‘other side’ and projecting their policies as either a ‘disaster’ or a ‘mess we’ve had to clear up’.

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