Paging Naftali Bennett: The Iranian regime and its nuclear program are bad enough, and you need not talk nonsense to make things even worse. There is no benefit to Israel in exaggerating the problematic aspects of the world powers’ apparently emerging rejiggered nuclear deal with Iran.
It’s also a bad idea to lionize Donald Trump for walking out of the previous deal – which harmed US credibility – while deepening the feeling among Israelis that the US Democratic Party is an enemy. The Democrats have their problems and the electoral system undermines them, but they are also probably the natural majority and they’re supported by most American Jews. Israel would be wise to maintain bipartisanship as it once did.
So it was disappointing to behold Bennett parroting the ancient regime’s trope about the past and possibly future nuclear agreement: that it allows Iran to supposedly “gallop” to the bomb upon its expiration. This is the sleight of hand that Benjamin Netanyahu deployed; gallop is the word that was chosen for the branding, and his success in confusing the credulous was huge.
That included Trump, and perhaps Bennett as well, for the prime minister spake thusly in comments in recent days: “The biggest problem with this deal is that within two and a half years, which is just around the corner, Iran will be able to develop, install and operate advanced centrifuges. Imagine stadiums of advanced spinning centrifuges – this is allowed in this agreement.”
So steady has been this drumbeat from Netanyahu that one might have concluded that Barack and Michelle Obama would be personally offended if Iran did not rush to build a bomb.
An interesting aspect of human nature makes it hard to refute illogic so absurd: we want to believe. People tend to assume a complex hidden truth, especially when the lie is rendered in confident, deep, jackhammer baritone.
And yet the truth is simple and quite unhidden. There is absolutely nothing in the agreement – neither the past one nor surely the one to come – that says Iran will be allowed to advance to a bomb upon its expiration. The agreement, as customary with agreements throughout the ages, says nothing about what happens when it expires.
So what will happen? Will Iran have global consent to build stadiums full of centrifuges, as per Netanyahu and now Bennett as well? Prophesy is a fool’s errand, but we can play the odds: the same powers will offer Iran renewal and extension with the same threat of debilitating sanctions if it should refuse. Just like now. The world by and large does not want and will not want a nuclear Iran.
Moreover, the West is still committed to Israel’s survival (which may not last forever). This is not the only reason to seek a non-nuclear Iran, but it compels great lengths to arrest the nuclear program. So the negotiators are indeed giving Iran rope on issues deemed less critical – such as the terrible damage Iran is causing in Syria. If Israel does not want a nuclear Iran and understands the principle of priorities in life, it should welcome the efforts of President Biden and his allies.
Israel’s security establishment understands all this and has been for years rather ambivalent on the issue. But some politicians clearly calculate there is public benefit in the agitations. Should one be surprised this now includes Bennett, who for so long served Netanyahu?
I say yes, because Bennett has nurtured some hopes for better things. He projects a measure of sobriety, professionalism and incorruptibility, seems disinclined to lie and avoids pathological use of the first person while rushing headfirst to seize credit for every conceivable success. He is no peacenik’s cup of tea, but it is easier to see Bennett negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas than agitating against the justice system. In a world that has gone off the rails, this is no small thing: the mini-me has emerged as a mini-mensch.
Until Iran issue comes up. What is it about Iran that makes Israeli politicians so infantile? Perhaps Netanyahu is truly omnipotent and just as he “normalized” the inclusion of an Arab party in the coalition by flirting with Raam in his desperation last spring, so has he normalized berserkness on Iran.
To be clear: I do not want Iran to get a bomb nor to become a threshold state, which is the option that is actually more conceivable. Indeed, I consider the Islamic Republic a menace, primarily to the hapless Iranian people. More sophisticated and even moderate than most, they deserve a democracy that offers freedom and prosperity, no less than the Israelis.
So I’d like the world to put more pressure on the Iranians. It would be great if Tehran understood that terrible consequences would result from one more ballistic missile, continued intervention in Yemen, a single execution of a person who should live. But the world is not quite ready to fight for such a better outcome, as it’s not ready to go to war with Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. The world is still a bit of a jungle. If Israel wants to resolve the Houthi issue, it will have to do so on its own.
Meanwhile, there is the nuclear program to contend with, as has been the case for a quarter-century or so, and on this matter, Israel would do well to take yes for an answer. It is precisely in the absence of an agreement that Iran has been able to ramp up its uranium enrichment and edge ever closer to weaponization. It is the lack of an agreement that is perilous for Israel, as well as the region and the world. Stopping Iran’s nuclear program even temporarily is good, and paying a price for doing it by agreement is inevitable.
Israel’s insistence on a false narrative carries its own price: it is not taken very seriously in other matters. For example, when it denies that it presides over a version of apartheid in the West Bank, and when it argues that the Palestinians are generally to blame.
So, dear Israeli leaders: give Iran a rest, and stop pining for Donald Trump (last heard from calling Putin a genius). Let the world powers buy you some more time; perhaps, if you are feeling civilized, offer a word of thanks.
If Israel faces an existential danger, and it most certainly does, it resides considerably closer to home, just over yonder hills, in the occupied West Bank.