Netanyahu’s Real Fear

A recent skit on the sketch comedy “Eretz Nehederet” featured a “debate” about the Iranian nuclear program between U.S. and Israeli leaders.

After some discussion, U.S. President Barack Obama accedes to the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and he urges them to attack Iran. Netanyahu and Barak exchange frightened glances and plead with Obama to stop them.

Here’s an idea for a different version of a sketch on the same subject: After the talks that began on Saturday between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, Obama tells Netanyahu and Barak that Iran has agreed to restrict its uranium enrichment and open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. Bibi looks at his defense minister with a crestfallen expression and mutters angrily: “What are we going to do without the Hitler of Tehran? Who will we say is threatening us with a second Holocaust?”

It has recently come to seem increasingly likely that this scenario could become more than just satire. Take the ruling by Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, banning the production, storage and use of nuclear weapons. Or the Washington Post opinion piece by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in which he said Iran has already expressed its opposition to weapons of mass destruction. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has promised “good news” at the end of the talks between Iran and the six powers. It appears that the sanctions campaign and/or the fear of a military assault are liable to push the Iranian nuclear issue off the Israeli and international agenda.

From Netanyahu’s perspective, the suspension of the Iranian nuclear threat could become a Pyrrhic victory: The world powers will turn toward other crises in the Middle East – including, of course, the Israeli occupation and its injustices. Without having to fear an Iranian nuclear bomb, Israelis are liable to get involved in the demographic and democratic issues in their own country. If the prime minister doesn’t cut down on settlements and accept the June 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution, he will go down in history as the leader who contributed to the isolation of Iran while simultaneously intensifying Israel’s isolation. For how long will Israel be able to close its doors to peace activists or hide behind the childish argument that the human rights situation in Syria is much worse than in the territories occupied by “the only democracy in the Middle East”?

An agreement with Iran on uranium enrichment and IAEA inspectors monitoring the Fordo underground nuclear facility near Qom could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory from the perspective of Israeli deterrence as well.

The (justified ) Israeli argument that attempting to contain an existing Iranian nuclear bomb would be the signal for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East has been heard. Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and Sam Nunn, a former U.S. senator who now heads the Nuclear Threat Initiative – which is aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons – are calling on the United States, Europe, Russia and NATO to promote the vision of “a nuclear-weapon-free world,” as they wrote in a New York Times op-ed Friday. In so doing, Schmidt and Nunn are joining their voices to those of former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry.

He who seeks to part his neighbor from nuclear weapons must expect that he will be asked to open his home to nuclear inspectors. What will Israel do if Iran follows through on its “threat” to participate in a conference, scheduled to be held in Helsinki late this year or early next year, focused on turning the Middle East into a nuclear-free zone? After 45 years of occupation, it’s tough to hold on to that victim pose and get a pass on certain things because of that victimhood. It could be that this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day will be Netanyahu’s last chance to say Auschwitz and Fordo in the same breath without raising the question “And what about Dimona?”

What would happen if Obama were to tell Netanyahu and Barak that the Iranians are willing to give up, totally and finally, not just on their nuclear program, but also on their incitement against the Zionist entity? In return, Israel would have to give up, totally and finally, on its plans for more settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and support the establishment of a Palestinian state. “Essentially,” Obama will remind Netanyahu and Barak, “you yourselves say that if you don’t get out of the territories, we’ll have to say Kaddish for the Zionist entity.”

Akiva Eldar writes for Ha’aretz, where this column originally appeared.


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