Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s reasoning makes as little sense as his overall strategy.
Netanyahu is determined to scuttle the imminent deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries over Iran’s development of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. (BTW, P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France—plus Germany.) Netanyahu argues that by signing a 10-year deal, the United States and the other countries are giving Iran de facto permission to construct nuclear weapons when the agreement ends. Netanyahu is convinced that once Iran has a nuclear capability, the first thing it will do is use it on Israel.
There are three major holes in Bibi’s logic:
1. From what we can tell, the agreement will likely halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons for 10 years, postponing for a generation the possibility of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel.
2. If, after the agreement ends, Iran begins an active program of nuclear weapons development, the United States and other nations can always renew the severe economic sanctions that have been crippling Iran for years.
3. Tehran is less than 1,000 miles from Tel Aviv, close enough that any nuclear bomb exploded in Israel would poison the Iranian air and water for decades. Moreover, Israel would likely respond to a nuclear attack from Iran in a like manner, leading to the immediate deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Iranians. The doctrine of mutually-assured destruction that has kept the United States and the Soviet Union (and now Russia) safe from a nuclear conflagration would likely also prevent Iran from attempting a first strike against Israel.
But as illogical as Netanyahu is thinking, his overall strategy is even more absurd. How will giving a speech in front of the U.S. Congress sink the talks? Most observers note that the speech represents a marriage of convenience between Republicans, who want to embarrass President Obama, and the Israeli Prime Minister, who thinks the speech will win him votes in the upcoming Israeli elections. In the short term, this strategy is risky, and in the long term it is doomed to failure. His planned speech gives the growing number of American Jews uncomfortable with Israel’s actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians another reason to unite, funnel money to Israeli progressives and jawbone their elected officials. It pisses off many in the United States, already uncomfortable with Netanyahu’s support of additional West Bank settlements. And it worsens his relationship with the head of the country that protects Israel and shtups it with $3.1 billion in military aid every year.
President Obama and others have objected to Netanyahu’s speech before Congress because it comes too close to the Israeli elections and therefore goes against the American tradition of not appearing to interfere in foreign elections. In breaking this tradition, with whom has Netanyahu gone to bed? The American right, which before Reagan had a long history of overt anti-Semitism and still has its share of racists and Jew-haters.
Joining with Republicans to embarrass a Democratic president really has to make a lot of Jewish Senators and Representatives who are Democrats pretty unhappy; even the most militaristic of them may now listen a little more carefully to the arguments of those who want to apply more pressure on Israel to stop building more settlements in the West Bank and finally negotiate a two-state solution. Of course Netanyahu’s insult to the president must please all those Jewish Republicans in Congress—oops, there’s only one!
We haven’t come to the big strategic question—how could Israel possibly be against rapprochement with Iran? What could Israel possibly lose by bringing Iran back into the stable of nations dedicated to peace? Who benefits from the current state of affairs in the Middle East? Of course the Israeli and Jewish equivalents of Islamic and Christian extremists get to keep the status quo, which is helpful to their side. And Israeli and American arms manufacturers certainly benefit from continued tensions, as they will be able to sell more guns, bullets, tanks and aircraft. The status quo suits these groups and their political factotum Netanyahu just fine.
Thus the only way to understand Netanyahu’s campaign to upset the negotiations with Iran as reasoned action is to conclude the he is an ardent supporter of the current instability in the Middle East. And that makes him a warmonger. We can only hope that Israeli voters realize Netanyahu’s way leads to more bloodshed and vote him out of office on March 17.