It is possible to be too successful?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves great credit for focusing global attention on the potential Iranian nuclear threat. Threats to wipe Israel off the map cannot be dismissed as the rantings of a crazy man when his government is secretly building nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them while fomenting terrorism against the Jewish state.
Netanyahu rightfully said the Iranian threat is global. Potential targets include Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states but, with Iranian's ballistic missile achievements, extend to all of Western Europe and potentially even North America. Nukes don't have to be used; their presence in the hands of a rogue regime pose an enormous blackmail potential.
The US, with a lot of Congressional prodding, took the threat seriously and marshaled broad international support. The goal of the political and economic sanctions was to convince Iran to abandon any plans to build nuclear weapons. Few, if any, believed its insistence that it intended to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes.
When a new Iranian government was elected last year and agreed to negotiate a nuclear agreement, Netanyahu was skeptical, to say the least. He called instead for tougher new sanctions to force the Islamic Republic to cry uncle. He wanted an Iranian unconditional surrender — no enrichment, no centrifuges, no reactors — not negotiations.
"Iran is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community," he warned again this week. "We must not let the ayatollahs win."
Under an interim arrangement, Iran and the major powers — United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have given themselves a July 20 deadline for an agreement. Last week's round of talks in Vienna, by all accounts, failed to make any progress and serious differences remain.
Netanyahu insists the Iranians are stalling in Vienna while secretly pursuing a nuclear weapon in secret labs buried deep under ground.
A nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the entire region — ironically least of all to Israel because it has the power and ability to strike back with its greater force; Israel has long-range bombers, ballistic missiles and missile-equipped submarines capable of striking any target in the Islamic Republic. And, according to published reports, possibly hundreds of nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have reportedly been trading intelligence information about the possible Iranian threat, and both are said to be peeved at Washington because they feel the Obama administration has not been tough enough on Tehran.
Israel — backed up by friends in the Congress and the American Jewish community – has been the most vocal about the Iranian threat. In building the case against Iran, that has also included a strong emphasis on its record of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, rabid anti-Israel rhetoric and arming Israel's enemies.
But is focusing on that aspect of Iranian behavior a smart strategy for Israel? Does it detract from honing in on the bigger problem?
The more the Iranian nuclear threat is framed as an Israel-centric issue, the riskier it may become to keep the Europeans on board because many leaders there do not trust Netanyahu and, rightly or not, blame him and his far right government for the failure of peace talks with the Palestinians. Most condemn his aggressive settlement construction policies, which are prompting some to consider sanctions on Israeli goods produced in the West Bank.
It is unfair to link the two issues, but they do, and that could translate into a European attitude that hanging tough on Iranian sanctions is doing a favor for Israel, and leaders there may want to show their displeasure by softening their demands on Iran.