Netanyahu’s speech and the Ostrich Syndrome
The international community has ignored for more than a decade the progress in Iran’s nuclear program.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at UN Photo: Mike Segar / Reuters
The speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly where
he delineated a red line to the Iranian nuclear program attracted huge
international attention. Yet, its impact will dissipate soon because the
international community suffers from Ostrich Syndrome.
Most states prefer
to ignore the bad news of nuclear proliferation. This happened with North Korea
and it is being repeated in Iran. Members of the international community are
reluctant to admit the stark reality because such an admission requires action,
which they are hardly ready to take.
Indeed, most states ignore the
extreme revolutionary nature of the Iran regime. Since 1979 a revolutionary
outlook has sprung on top of an imperial tradition in Tehran. The mullahs want
to export their radical Shi’ite version of Islam, and adopted a jihadist agenda.
But we are told that they are rational just like us.
leadership was responsible for killing Westerners in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia...
and we are told that they are rational just like us. The Iranian leadership
entertains the idea of bringing Andalusia (Spain) back into the Islamic
fold... and we are told that they are rational just like us.
plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the US... and we are told that
they are rational like us.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed
his desire to remove Israel from the map... and we are told that he is rational
just like us.
Ahmadinejad spoke to God and even got answers... and we are
told he is rational just like us.
Similarly, the international community
has ignored for more than a decade the progress in Iran’s nuclear program and
adheres to the illusion that talks will eventually dissuade them from building a
Iran was caught lying to International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) about its nuclear program, but Israelis were told that there is plenty of
time to conduct negotiations.
Iran built an enrichment facility at
Natanz... and we were told that there is still time to do something about
Iran expanded this enrichment facility... and we were told
that there is still time. Iran build a new enrichment plant at Fordow... and we
were told that there is still time. Iran achieved a five percent enrichment
level, and then 10% and recently it reached 20%... and we were told each time
that there is still time.
The latest IAEA report indicates that Iran is a
few months from having enough fissionable material for a nuclear bomb and maybe
a year from having enough for 10 bombs... and we were told again that there is
still time to do something about it.
The inevitable conclusion from the
behavior of the international community is that it consistently opts for an
easy, harmless transition from “there is still time to do something” to “it’s
too late to do something.”
A large part of the international community
belittles the wide-ranging repercussions of a nuclear Iran.
about Iran “Finlandizing” the oil producing nations in the Gulf and the Caspian
Basin; nuclear proliferation in the Middle East; Iran nuclear terrorism; a
security threat for states within a radius of 2,500 kilometers; the loss of
Western credibility after repeated declarations that “a nuclear Iran is
unacceptable” are all dismissed as Israeli exaggerations or unfounded
Western rationalist experts point out that Iran is “rationale”
and can be deterred. This is wishful thinking and reflects the prevalent ostrich
mentality. There are numerous examples where Iran was undeterred even before
owning a nuclear bomb.
Did the US deter Iranian influence in Lebanon? No.
Hezbollah took over the country. Did the US curtail Iranian influence in
Palestinian politics? No. Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Did the US deter Iran
from turning Iraq into its satellite? No. Did the US deter Iran from meddling in
Bahrain? No. Did the US deter Iran from assisting Assad stay in power in Syria?
No. Did the US deter Iran from establishing a presence in its backyard, in
Venezuela, and penetrating Latin America? No.
And all this inconvenient
evidence is ignored by the Ostrich Syndrome-stricken strategists and
Deterrence works only if threats to use force are credible.
Iran paused its nuclear program when the US attacked Iraq in 2003. Unfortunately
US President Barack Obama is not feared – with good reason. He is viewed in the
Middle East by friends and foes of the US alike as a lightweight weakling.
Obviously the Europeans hardly instill any fear in Tehran. The Tehran zoo
provides a good picture of how ostriches behave.
In addition, deterrence
works only if there is reasonable sensitivity to costs. Unfortunately, the
theological outlook of the Iranian leadership prepares it for paying heavy costs
in the pursuit of its jihadist agenda. Indeed, Iranian leaders declared their
willingness to pay with millions of lives in order to destroy the Jewish
And the domestic suffering caused by the economic sanctions has
not changed the regime nuclear policy.
At this late stage, after so many
years, nothing will stop the nuclear program except for the use of
The Iranians are smart enough to diagnose the international
community with the Ostrich Syndrome and their prognosis is that they can get
away with building a bomb, just like North Korea did. In the absence of a quick
recovery from the Ostrich Syndrome, we are doomed to live in a more brutish
The writer is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan
University, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies and
fellow at the Middle East Forum.