It is becoming more critical than ever to keep our eye on the ball. Whatever one’s view on the decision by Speaker of the House John Boehner to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress — and I have called it ill-advised, this unnecessary brouhaha should not divert us from the real issue: Will we stop Iran from becoming a nuclear armed power?
That question has always been critical to the security of the world as well as that of the State of Israel. Failure to achieve the goal or even the perception that the goal was not truly achieved will inevitably lead Arab states in the region — already fearful of Iran’s quest for regional domination – to develop their own nuclear programs. There is broad acknowledgement such a development would move the world closer to our modern nightmare of nuclear Armageddon than ever before.
And, for the State of Israel, this is a life and death scenario. Let’s remember that at the heart of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a goal of destroying the Jewish state. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was infamous for stating on a number of occasions that Iran sought Israel’s disappearance. But far more serious are the comments by the all-powerful Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who in November 2014 said that the “barbaric” Jewish State “has no cure but to be annihilated.” Included was his nine-point plan for the elimination of Israel reminiscent of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
The tragic history of the Jewish people in the 20th century has taught us that we must take seriously threats of annihilation. This is particularly so when they come from a state that has built up a huge armed force, as was the case of the Nazis, or as is the case with Iran (if they were) moving inexorably toward a nuclear weapons capability.
In recent months, as Iran’s goal to dominate the Middle East has taken on new meaning, the importance of preventing Iran from going nuclear has grown even more significant, if possible. Just look around the region: in Syria, it is Iran’s military support and the use of its surrogate Hezbollah that has kept the Assad regime in power. He will owe Iran even more than before if he survives.
In Yemen, Houthi rebels just ousted by military force the American-backed President. The Houthis are a Shiite offshoot who are very dependent on their Iranian backers.
In Iraq, Iranian influence with the Shiite government remains profound and is a sticking point in Iraq’s ability to bring the country together.
And, of course, Hezbollah continues to dominate Lebanon through force and is now threatening Israel from the Golan Heights as well as from southern Lebanon.
As dangerous as ISIS, the brutal terrorist group is, we should never lose sight of the far greater threat coming from Iran. This means we need to be very careful in cooperating with Iran against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. While tactically it may make sense to do so, the risk is it can influence U.S. determination in nuclear negotiations only to hold out for a deal that will effectively stop Iran from going nuclear. The more we treat Iran as if it were a responsible player in the region rather than the brutal force, at home and abroad, that it is, the more likely there will be erosion in the American resolve to only strike a good deal with Iran.
That is why we support new sanctions if the current round of talks fail. The argument that is being made suggesting that the interim agreement put everything on hold and therefore time is on our side is misleading. First, Iran is still moving forward on its delivery systems for any future nuclear weapon, an aspect which was not included in the interim agreement.
More important, however, is the psychology of time passing without a definitive conclusion. It inevitably produces an easing of the concern about the dire threat a nuclear Iran would be, particularly when we hear the soothing words of Iran’s President and Foreign Minister. This, together with the tacit working relationships with Iran against ISIS and possibility of simply further extending the current interim agreement, undercuts the sense of urgency about the issue.
New sanctions against Iran will not only increase the pressure on the Iranian regime, already significant because of existing sanctions and the collapse of oil prices – but it will generate a new seriousness of purpose on the Western side. It will be a statement that this is a challenge that cannot wait, that nothing will divert us from the goal of stopping Iran from going nuclear.
Time is not on our side regarding Iran. How long will Europeans, struggling with their economics, stick with sanctions? How long will it be before we will start hearing an old refrain that we can live with a nuclear Iran?
The moment is approaching when we need to know: Is Iran ready to give up its nuclear plans or must the West revisit its whole approach?