This past February, three weeks before the general elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following statement: “When we talk about the cost of housing, the rising cost of living, I do not for a minute forget life itself. The greatest threat to our lives right now is the nuclear armament of Iran.”
This was a deliberate attempt to divert public debate from the many issues plaguing Israel, such as ending the occupation, the price of housing, the cost of living and growing economic disparities. And this was not an isolated case.
Netanyahu was elected prime minister three times on the wings of the Iranian threat. Since 1992, “Mr. Iran,” as he is called in Israel, has been issuing warnings that Iran is just moments away from the bomb.
Warnings that culminated in a speech last March – just two weeks before Israel’s general elections – before the United States Congress (a podium he reached behind US President Barack Obama’s back) in which he shot down the Iranian deal in development and called for its unequivocal derailment.
This is how Prime Minister Netanyahu functions, and not only when it comes to Iran. He employs hardheaded politics that revolve around an unwavering defense of the status quo, meting out equal resistance to thoughtful diplomacy and constructive approaches to domestic challenges. It is a blunt approach that has turned the Prime Minister’s Office and the State of Israel into part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
In all of Netanyahu’s lecturing on Iran – and there is no subject about which he enjoys speaking more, he has not once offered a practical or operational alternative.
His approach has been one of fear-mongering, victimization, despair and the occasional threat of military assault – empty threats, because there is no feasible military option short of an invasion. Obama, by contrast, concluded there were two realistic trajectories: a deal or regional war. The president of the United States chose a deal.
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It is important to state at this point that the security of Israel is no less a priority for me and the political camp I represent than for Netanyahu. Not one of us understates the threat presented by Iran’s nuclear program, and not one of us can conceive of living in peace with a nuclear-armed Iran. But contrary to the prime minister, we understand that preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons is an international interest, not just an Israeli one. I refuse to accept Netanyahu’s repeated claim that it would be better to leave Iran hurtling on its path to a nuclear bomb under the status quo than to accept the agreement in its current form.
True, the deal with Iran is not perfect, far from it, but it is not nearly as bad as the prime minister portrays.
The deal extends the time it will take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a bomb to one year and maintains this interval for the next 10 years through intensive international monitoring – monitoring which is set to continue past the 10-year timeline.
At the outset of the talks, Iran was already capable of producing enough weapons-grade nuclear material for a bomb in a month and a half. Had negotiations not begun, that ticking clock would be even shorter today. Thanks to the multilateral talks and President Obama’s leadership, Iran’s nuclear program has been pushed back for the first time in more than a decade. In other words, if the West, which Netanyahu has taken great pains to characterize as naïve, had taken his advice and not proceeded with the last round of talks, Iran would be closer to a nuclear bomb today.
The Iran deal incorporates unprecedented levels of supervision by the IAEA, as well as ready options for recourse if the terms are violated. Sanctions are to be lifted gradually, and stipulations are in place for their reinstatement upon discovery of non-compliance.
What the government of Israel needs to do now is put an end to the unnecessarily icy relationship with the White House and dissociate from any veiled attempts to carry out a coup against the president in the US Congress. Instead, a senior representative, preferably the prime minister himself (who also holds the foreign affairs portfolio,) should meet with President Obama to discuss the deal, its loopholes and weaknesses, how intelligence-based measures can be employed to further monitor Iran’s compliance, and how Israel can also benefit from this new reality. Israel can now develop a framework of understanding with the United States that acts as a safeguard against problematic aspects of the deal.
The purpose of multilateral negotiations with Iran was to prevent nuclear proliferation, and the deal does limit Iran’s nuclear capability. In the same framework of understanding, Israel now needs to establish clear expectations that the international coalition also act on Iran’s arming of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has made every possible mistake in handling the Iranian threat, is forging ahead with the same single-minded opposition and still hoping to attain different results. His campaign against nuclear talks with Iran has so far resulted in his exclusion from and irrelevance to the final agreement. Instead of accepting that the deal has been signed and focusing on improving it, he is cantankerously digging his heels and sustaining a collision course with the American administration.
One thing is certain: the multilateral agreement on Iran is a major achievement for President Obama and proves that the United States has not only not abandoned its role in the region, it has deepened and strengthened it. We can only hope that now, by removing the Iranian threat from the top of Israel’s security list and proving the United States’ investment in the region, Israel will be compelled to address the challenges my friends and I see as paramount in our lives: ending the conflict with the Palestinians, ending the occupation over another people, and a move toward a two-state solution.
Perhaps this is in fact what is most frightening to Netanyahu about the deal with Iran: now there will be those who demand (and trust me, there will be) that he start to deal with “life itself.”The author is the chairwoman of Meretz and an MK.
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