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Netanyahu's speech adds injury to insult

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Monday, 9 March 2015


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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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