Mar 5th 2015

Netanyahu’s Speech Adds Injury To Insult

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Following Prime Minster Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress, the question being asked is whether the speech will adversely or positively impact the negotiations between the P5 +1 and Iran, led by the US. The simple answer is neither. From everything we have seen and know, the Obama administration remains committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and any agreed-upon deal must meet that objective. The notion that President Obama will settle on a bad deal only to score a major foreign policy success is obscene. No one knows better than Obama that under any circumstance, the US will bear the responsibility and suffer the consequences of any bad deal.

Netanyahu only confirmed the US’ ultimate responsibility when he stated so ‘valiantly’ that “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand,” quickly adding, “But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel.”

If this is the case, where does Netanyahu’s bravado come from? As long as the US remains the ultimate guarantor of Israel’s security, no prime minster can afford to insult the President of the US by accusing him of potentially striking a bad deal when the provisions of such a deal have not been concluded in the first place.

Netanyahu has legitimate cause to sound the alarm about the threat Iran poses. His speech, however, will do little to improve the substance of any agreement. What is more injurious is his insinuation that Obama will accede to a “bad deal” even though it will be to Israel’s detriment.

To refer to any deal in terms of bad or good is simplistic and suggests little understanding of the reality in the context of how such a deal can be struck.

There is no perfect deal. Any complicated deal requires extensive negotiations and entails significant concessions by both sides. I would happily subscribe to the principal requirements of the deal Netanyahu boldly advocates, if it had the smallest chance of materializing.

Such a deal would require Iran to dismantle all of its nuclear facilities, destroy its capability to enrich uranium, scrap its intercontinental missile program, end its aggression against its neighbors, stop supporting terrorism around the world, and cease to threaten Israel’s existence.

Should Iran refuse to accept these terms, Netanyahu’s recipe is simply to impose more crippling sanctions to bring Tehran to its knees. He assumes that since the sanctions compelled Iran to come to the negotiating table, a new set of crippling sanctions will force it to abandon its nuclear program altogether.

This is where Netanyahu is woefully mistaken; he has not (nor does he seem to care to) carefully assessed Iran’s perception of itself, the regime’s religious convictions, its geopolitical situation, past experience with the West, competing centers of power, national pride and sense of vulnerability. If he did consider all that and some, he would have come to a different conclusion.

Iran will never accept these terms and will never crawl to get relief from any old or new sanctions, regardless of how much pain and suffering it will further endure.

The choice then is between making an imperfect deal that stands a good chance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, or no deal that would certainly leave Iran free to pursue its nuclear program.

"The choice then is between making an imperfect deal that stands a good chance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, or no deal that would certainly leave Iran free to pursue its nuclear program."

This would leave the US and Israel with only one option—to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities—which will unquestionably instigate a regional conflagration with horrifying implications, which Netanyahu, it seems, is unable to imagine.

Since the US will ultimately have to take the lead in striking Iran and bear the consequences, doesn’t Obama have the moral responsibility to try the diplomatic route first?

Netanyahu is correct in suggesting that the traces of Iran’s mischief are visible throughout the Middle East, including its financing of jihadist groups and other violent extremists like Hamas and Hezbollah, its meddling in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, and having a direct hand in the killing of Americans and other foreign nationals.

Precisely because of that, every effort should be made to reach an agreement which, at a minimum, tempers Iran’s flagrant destructive regional activities under constant American pressure and prevents it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Other than criticizing the would-be deal, Netanyahu didn’t offer any other practical option that would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Instead of demanding the untenable, Netanyahu should focus on the attainable and work with the President to tighten up the deal rather than further damaging Israel’s vital relations with the US and undermining the President’s unparalleled efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.

To that end, Netanyahu should support the President to ensuring the following, albeit most of these provisions still are on the negotiating table:

The new agreement should remain effective, preferably for 20 years but at least 15 years.

The lifting of sanctions should be gradual and tied to Iran’s compliance with every provision of the agreement and implemented in phases, based on predetermined reciprocal arrangement.

The most rigorous monitoring regime is put in place leaving no room for Iran to cheat, including unfettered, unrestrictive, and unannounced inspections that cover every nuclear facility.

Iran must stop its research and development of intercontinental missiles.

The Fordo plant near the city of Qom and the Arak heavy water facilities must be disabled and remain so under strict international monitoring.

The specific number of centrifuges left in the Natanz nuclear plant must predetermine the quantity and quality of enriched uranium for medical and other peaceful use.

The US should aim for the development of a regional defense strategy—a nuclear umbrella—that would cover Israel and all of America’s Arab allies in the region to deter Iran from threatening any state in the area.

Iran must end its existential threats against Israel while the Israeli government would commit to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is one of Tehran’s main contentions against Israel.

Finally, Netanyahu should appeal to the Iranian people and distinguish them from their autocratic government in an effort to change the Iranian people’s perception of Israel by clearly stating that Israel has no animosity toward the Iranians and that Israel would be gratified to restore the historic ties between Jews and Persians.

Netanyahu should remember that regardless of how determined the Mullahs are to acquire nuclear weapons, staying in power is more important, especially if the deal strengthens their hold on power and they are assured that the US is not seeking regime change.

Iran is a significant regional power capable of playing a destructive or constructive role. The prospective deal could open the door for Iran to become a positive player, which is certainly preferable than having no deal that forces Iran to resort to any unsavory measure to serve its national interests.

It is sad that instead of making a significant contribution to the negotiations with Iran, Netanyahu came to the US to play politics. He gambled with US-Israel relations, only to earn some political points back home two weeks before the elections.

He pretends to be Israel’s savior when all he seeks is to save his political career.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."