There you go again, Mr. Netanyahu. At the United Nations and on several TV shows during his visit to the U.S. Netanyahu has been repeating his mantra: Iran is an existential threat to Israel and Israel is ready to attack it alone if Iran continues to develop its nuclear program. Never mind that Israel has the backing of the United States and is vastly superior to Iran because of its possession of nuclear weapons.
Speaking about Israel’s policy towards Iran Netanyahu said, “What is important is to convey to them, especially after the election, that the policy will not change…And [it] should be backed up with ratcheted sanctions. You should ratchet up the sanctions and make it clear to Iran that they won’t get away with it. And if sanctions don’t work, they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action – that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”
Paradoxically, while Netanyahu was repeating his known aggressive opinion on how to deal with the Iranians, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Tokyo that it would be “diplomatic malpractice” not to pursue all options before taking military action to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. President Barak Obama reiterated this point of view when he told Netanyahu that the Western powers had to “test” diplomacy with Iran.
Despite Netanyahu’s aggressive rhetoric, the Iranians reason that if Israel has an estimated arsenal of 200 to 400 nuclear weapons and has carried out aggressive actions against their neighbors (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan) why couldn’t they develop their own nuclear program? It is still to be determined if the Iranian nuclear program is planned for aggressive purposes. In addition, the Iranians say, they haven’t attacked any of their neighbors in more than 200 years.
Prodded by Netanyahu and the pro-Israel neo-cons in the U.S. government, and contrary to the opinion of most countries, the United States and its European allies have imposed brutal sanctions on Iran that have affected the Iranian people more than its leadership, and have intensified a public health crisis in the country. Those sanctions, rather than daunting the Iranians, have intensified them in their resolve to pursue their nuclear program.
In addition, both in 2009 and in 2012, the United Nations passed a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to submit to inspections on its alleged possession of nuclear arms. Israel refused to sign that treaty. Iran, by contrast, is a signatory of the treaty.
President Obama has repeatedly indicated the danger represented by nuclear weapons falling into terrorists’ hands, thus suggesting the need to curb Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon. However, both Pakistan and North Korea, with considerable more unstable regimes, represent a far more serious danger in that regard, and they have not been subjected to the kind of hostility that the Iranian government has been.
As Mr. Netanyahu insists that Iran is edging up to the red line on its nuclear development, Mr. Rohani has stated that he is in favor of continuing negotiations to resolve his country’s nuclear dispute with the West. At the same time, however, Mr. Rohani is defending this country’s right to pursue peaceful development of a civil nuclear energy program.
Despite his clams about his concern for peace, Mr. Netanyahu’s actions betray his lofty words. He has ordered the lethal attack against thousands of civilians –many of them women and children- in Gaza as well as the uninterrupted building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Both actions have been strongly condemned by the international community.
Through diplomacy and common interest Iran’s new leadership now offers the opportunity to change a paradigm geared for war for one geared for peaceful coexistence. Rather than using belligerent language, this should be a logical next step in bringing peace to that troubled region.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.