Should Bibi Netanyahu be held accountable for his failure to prevent capitulation to Iran?

There have been calls from both the left and far right in Israel to hold Bibi Netanyahu responsible for the disastrous Iran Deal to which the US and Europe recently agreed. This kind of thinking reminds me of Léon Blum and Winston Churchill. Blum was the first Jewish Prime Minister of France and the first Socialist to hold the office. Blum tried to warn Britain and the United States of Germany’s aggression. He made efforts to expose the evil of the Nazis. Likewise, Winston Churchill opposed the Munich Agreement and warned that the Nazis were not trustworthy.

Nevertheless, Britain and France signed on to the Munich Agreement and handed the Sudetenland of the Czech Republic to Germany without a shot. Within months, Germany devoured and carved up what are now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939 kicking off the Second World War, and the rest is history.

French Prime Minister Léon Blum.

French Prime Minister Léon Blum.

Were Léon Blum and Winston Churchill to blame for the Allies’ failure to recognize the threat posed by Hilter? No. Weak-kneed leaders who lack the gravitas to stand up to evil and call it by its name will act as they feel they must; those more perspicacious who warn of the consequences of such capitulation cannot be held responsible.

In recent decades, Europe has looked to the United States for courage when it comes to matters of defense. Lacking the backbone and the will to stand up for themselves, Europeans tend to go crying to the US every time they need to make a stand. President Barack Obama seems to think he needs this deal to stand as a legacy–a testament to his diplomatic success. What good is a legacy if it is doomed to ultimate failure? The President has spoken frequently about how the US- and UN-imposed sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table. Even he has admitted that Iran gravely needs relief from sanctions. If sanctions have prostrated Iran, why is the West desperate to reach a deal? With the US administration eager for a deal and Europeans unwilling to demand the security of their interests, only disaster can result. And no one can stop it.

Recently, President Obama made the claim that Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu failed to offer an alternative to the Iran Deal. Apparently, the President has been practicing selective hearing again. In his speech before the US Congress Bibi presented a clear alternative: one of resolute defiance of a regime bent on regional domination. Iran may want to obtain a nuclear weapon, but that is merely a means to a particular end. Attacking the means is like a police officer telling a thief who has just robbed a convenience store that he must not run. As long as he walks, the thief will escape.

Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu addresses the US Congress.

Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu addresses the US Congress.

Iran has armed, equipped, trained, and organized terror groups and insurgents the region over. From Yemen to Syria, from Iraq to Egypt, Iran is actively pursuing regional dominance. This end must be prevented, nuclear weapons are but one means. A nuclear-armed regime with such ambitions is all the more dangerous, but the regime will continue to employ other means to the same end. In his speech before Congress, Bibi clearly stated, to the general applause of America’s legislators, that Iran must be stopped. If Iran is desperate under sanctions, then keep them that way. Hold fast and stand your ground until Iran is ready to resign not only their nuclear aim, but also their terror campaign.

Imagine a Middle East free of Hizbollah and wherein Hamas is not longer financed by Tehran. Peace in Yemen, security in Bahrain, freedom in Iraq–these could be a reality (although a general effort against Islamic State must also continue). This is a goal worth the patience. Instead, Iran has won twice over: while they have, perhaps, delayed their nuclear programme, they have entirely avoided consequences for regional war mongering and will receive money from the US to relieve the effects of sanctions. As Iran’s oil flows freely to desperate markets and its goods and services are purchased internationally, tax revenues will fill Iran’s coffers. This in a country which expends 6% of its GDP on terror. This “deal” looks a lot more like an Iranian wish list than a hard bargain aimed at limiting that country’s threat profile.

Could Bibi have prevented this catastrophe? Certainly not. Anyone can point out a folly to a fool, but in the end it is the fool’s choice to folly. The most influential Israeli PM could not have prevented this deal. How can I make such an assertion with such confidence? Because the Saudis also opposed the deal. With the weight and power of their oil riches, investments, lobbyists, and influencers, Saudi Arabia was equally impotent. Like Israel, they were excluded from the negotiating table. Like Israel they have much to lose from a bad deal. Yet, the negotiations went forward.

There are those who challenge Bibi’s diplomatic skill. Consider this: for the past few months, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have all been very much on the same diplomatic page. Turkey, too, has much to lose from a more powerful Iran, and has, likewise, been more or less aligned with these powers. Not many years ago this would have been unthinkable. Having and cultivating this common interest behind the scenes seems to be bearing fruit for Israel.

Bibi has pointed out hypocrisies in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ government (in which Hamas had a part until recently), and such criticisms have brought immediate results. Abbas has removed Hamas from the government and is pursuing a new Fatah-led government. One might almost believe that Abbas was under pressure from Arab leaders, Arab leaders who are no longer ignoring Israel’s Prime Minister. Pursuing a real peace agreement seems like it may, once again, be on the agenda. Pressured by the west and his Arab allies, Abbas may find himself between a rock and a hard place.

Those attacking Bibi for being incompetent in the diplomatic field are missing a great deal of nuance in Middle Eastern relations of late. If Israel and its Arab neighbors have reached a new understanding and are forming an informal alliance against Iran and its satellites, that would prove a major shift in Middle Eastern realities. The only group Sunnis seem to hate more than the Jews, are the Shiites.

What is the political alternative to Bibi? If Isaac Herzog had won the last election he would simply be celebrating the bad deal as a job well done, thanking Obama for his role in Herzog’s late campaign. How or why he could have influenced or prevented a deal having been in office for a matter of months, is unclear.

In the recent elections, Israelis expressed their confidence in Bibi’s leadership for the fourth time. It is curious that those who celebrate words like “democracy” very much like to ridicule those results. Perhaps democracy is not what they mean to celebrate.