Unilaterally changing a global conversation isn’t easy. Trying to do so when everyone is shouting in panic and with their fingers stuffed in their ears is enough to daunt the most determined. Yet that’s what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attempted to do this week in the US, where he addressed the UN and spoke with President Barack Obama.
America and Britain are panicking about the threat from Islamic State, so much so they have gone to war (albeit in a half-baked fashion, but that’s another story) in Iraq and Syria. Without denying the need to confront the Islamic State threat, Netanyahu wants America and its allies to be most concerned about the thousand-fold more dangerous menace of Iran.
Netanyahu is worried that, since Iran is also fighting Islamic State, this will turn the Iranian regime from pariah into partner and thus provide it with vital leverage in its quest to achieve nuclear weapons capability.
Accordingly, Netanyahu strove to equate Islamic State with Iran and other Islamic terror groups.
Just as the world powers would not let Islamic State enrich uranium, build a heavy water reactor or develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, he said, so Iran must not be allowed to do those things either. “To defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war.”
His anxiety is all too well-founded, as the US is signaling that it wants to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
In a speech last week to the National Iranian American Council, the White House Middle East coordinator Philip Gordon said: “A nuclear agreement could begin a multi-generational process that could lead to a new relationship between our countries. Iran could begin to reduce tensions with its neighbors and return to its rightful place in the community of nations.”
This is astonishingly myopic, or worse. The State Department has listed Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. It supports Hamas and Hezbollah and has been behind countless murderous attacks against US, Jewish and other Western interests.
It sows insurgent chaos in Iraq (indeed, to that end it was reportedly an early supporter of Islamic State) because such destabilization helps it control the region. It is waging a self-declared war against the West, and repeatedly declares its genocidal intention to wipe out Israel. The only conscionable agreement with Iran is for it to do what it has repeatedly and categorically ruled out, to abandon uranium enrichment and its nuclear program.
According to Gordon, there was “progress” in the latest round of talks with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline. What progress? Only towards an Iranian bomb.
In a confidential report, the International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that “little progress is being made” in these negotiations, with Iran implementing only three out of five nuclear transparency steps which it had undertaken to complete before August 25. Yet in the face of such defiance, the US and its international negotiating partners are flirting with proposals which would leave Iran’s nuclear program intact and the regime able to manufacture the bomb in short order.
What is so perplexing is that Iran is simply not being treated by the West as the threat that it so patently is, despite its serial atrocities against Western interests.
In Britain, the main anxiety is not about a nuclear Iran but the possibility that Israel might attack it.
Last year the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is tipped by many as a future prime minister, told an adoring TV audience that Iran posed no threat to anyone in the world at all.
This week the British home secretary, Theresa May, observed that “the lesson of history tells us that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it.” She was talking, however, not about Iran but about Islamic State, which she described as planning to establish “the world’s first truly terrorist state.”
But that’s precisely what Iran already is. And if Islamic State with its 25,000 followers is such a threat, why isn’t Iran, with its standing army of more than half a million and its terror proxies, rocket arsenals and imminent genocide bomb, seen as immeasurably more dangerous? In the US, Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, suggested that a nuclear deal with Iran trumped any such concerns about its behavior.
“The nuclear issue is too important to subordinate to a complete transformation of Iran internally,” he said. But while Iran is the world’s principal terrorist regime, it is surely beyond irresponsible to allow it to become a nuclear-capable power.
Netanyahu’s attempt to educate the world about the hydra-headed global jihad appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Last Monday, the State Department said it did not agree with him that Hamas, Islamic State and Iran were all part of the same Islamist movement. For America, it said, Islamic State posed a different threat. But how can this possibly be worse than Iran? At Wednesday’s joint press conference with Obama, Netanyahu opened an ingenious new front. A “commonality of interest between Israel and leading Arab states,” he said, was now starting to emerge from the current turmoil in the Arab world.
He seemed to be suggesting a possible alliance by Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates not just against Islamic State but also against Iran. Just as Obama was persuaded to proceed against Islamic State only when he gained cover from Arab states, so perhaps Netanyahu hoped to persuade him he could act with similar Arab cover against Iran.
Even more sinuous was the hint that a similar alliance might pull off the prize Obama always hoped would crown his presidency: a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Clever stuff, this, turning Obama’s obsession from a malign threat against Israel to a win-win inducement. Whether it has the slightest chance, though, of shifting the US away from its headlong spiral of Iranian-appeasement is another matter.
The alternatives for the US and its allies are stark.
Either they support Israel in fighting Iran as the principal enemy of the West – or they crumble before Iran and thus inescapably empower its attack on the West. The free world can only hold its breath.Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).