Don’t negotiate with terrorists

March 3rd, 2015 marked a historical event in global politics. It was the day that Israel’s sitting Prime Minister addressed the U.S. Congress, against the wishes of the sitting U.S. President, in an attempt to persuade them not to pass the upcoming nuclear deal with Iran. As the New York Times put it, “the Israeli leader was essentially urging lawmakers to trust him – not Mr. Obama – when it comes to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” One might assume that Bibi would take such an unprecedented and controversial move only if he was absolutely desperate to prevent this deal from passing. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that he would risk the historically strong friendship between Israel and the U.S. for mere political recognition. I certainly don’t think he would.

Naturally, there was an unmistakable sense of urgency in Bibi’s speech. He appealed to the emotions of the addressees, arguing convincingly that if this deal goes through, it will pave the path for Iran to create a nuclear bomb legitimately, in ten years’ time. Bibi was very clear in conveying the message that this deal is bad. Bad for the U.S., bad for Israel, bad for democracy, freedom, and the safety and security of all future generations. And, unless you believe that Iran will magically change for the better in the near future, as Bibi stated is highly unlikely, you probably also agree that this deal is bad.

But apart from placing us all in a mild state of panic, what did Bibi actually recommend yesterday? He raised the applicable counterclaim. He said, what about the argument that we cannot prevent the inevitable, and that this deal at least pushes that inevitable forward a decade? To that counterclaim, he argued that any other deal that does not ease the sanctions against Iran until it acts in a manner that deserves an ease in sanctions, is better than one that does so prematurely. Sure, that sounds reasonable. But it fits in poorly with the very convincing argument he just made that Iran will never change. In fact, what Bibi went on to recommend, is that meanwhile Iran is clearly hiding something (read: a nuclear weapons scheme), no deal to ease sanctions on the country should be made. When Iran decides not to hide anything anymore (read: a nuclear weapons scheme), then sanctions should be removed accordingly.

What the U.S. wants is a deal with Iran. In its view, a deal that at least pushes forward the creation of a nuclear bomb one decade is better than no deal. Sadly, the alternative that Bibi is feeding them, is exactly what they already know and do not want – namely, the alternative of no deal. Because let’s face it – the reason Iran needs the deal more than the U.S., as Bibi correctly stated, is because it allows them to eventually develop nuclear weapons. So why would that ever change? In what world will Bibi’s alternative “deal” – easing sanctions once Iran starts “behaving like a normal State”, to quote the Prime Minister, ever happen?

I think the current nuclear deal with Iran is as about as bad as anyone else thinks. I was hoping, desperately, that Bibi had a better option in mind, given the risks he took to present it. What we’re left with is a presentation of the obvious argument: “don’t negotiate with terrorists”, that seems unpersuasive at this point, and new fractions in the already fragile U.S.-Israel relationship.

I certainly don’t know how to solve this, but maybe it’s time to face the fact that neither does Bibi?

About the Author
Olivia Flasch was born in Sweden to Polish-Ukrainian Jewish parents. After high school, she spent a few months volunteering in Israel. She then completed her Bachelor's Degree in International Law (LL.B) in The Hague, The Netherlands, and her Master's Degree in Law (MJur) at the University of Oxford. She currently lives in London.