Iran, Israel, and the US

This note is not so much about the speech, as what it reflects and suggests.

Netanyahu spoke for about 30 minutes net of interruptions for applause. The major points, beyond describing the likely agreement as dangerous for leaving Iran with an easy road to nuclear weapons, were its lacking of provisions to demand other reforms from Iran: ceasing the undermining of neighboring governments, ceasing the support of terror, and ceasing threats against Israel.

Toward the end Netanyahu brought up the Holocaust, said that Israel's existence and capacity were assurance that Jews could defend themselves, and hinted that there might be an Israeli response if greater powers did not reign in the fanatics in charge of Iran.

The US leadership noticed the speech, even before it was delivered. Nancy Pelosi led the immediate post-speech assertions, saying that it saddened her to the point of tears for its insult to the intelligence of the United States. Obama  said that it included nothing new. 

John Kerry criticized Netanyahu's judgement, saying that he had supported the US invasion of Iraq in 2002. 

In response to that, Charles Krauthammer noted that Kerry also supported GW Bush's Iraq war, first as a Senator and later as a presidential candidate..

Opinion leaders and officials in a number of Muslim countries endorsed Netanyahu's major points. They, too, see Iran as a prime source of unrest in the Middle East, and have not seen Obama and his administration as up to the task of dealing with it.

The larger importance of the speech, although not explicit within it, concerns the profound cultural divided between Islam and the rest of the world. Or, to cite Moshe Arens once again, the Middle East is not the Middle West.

Benyamin Netanyahu has spent almost all of his life absorbing the nature of the Middle East, as well as enough of his education and work experience in the West to be able to describe in colloquial English the nature of the threats that come out of the region. 

Clear in his subtext was that Barack Obama, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and a lot of other Americans haven't a clue, even though Obama proclaims at every opportunity his own Muslim roots.

It may be only a minority of Muslims who are willing to express hatred of others, participate in violence or support those who do, but it is only a minority that has shown a willingness to act forcefully against the radicals. Egyptian governments of Mubarak and al-Sisi have been prominent exceptions. It was part of Obama's naivite that he worked against Mubarak,  supported the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood, and opposed al-Sisi.

Individuals from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities are able to communicate, reach understanding, create friendships, and in some cases establish families. Most do not, and the governments that represent each community cannot separate themselves from their surroundings.

Associated with Muslim radicalism, and likely to rescue the West from Iran's madness, is the extremism of political leaders who will not consider compromise from demands that have their sources in extreme versions of Islam.

There is not a little irony in the extremism of Muslim radicals that it serves to protect others from the threat of its violent expansion.

The latest sign of this among the Iranian leadership came in the days prior to Netanyahu's speech, and three months before the agreed end of negotiations. The foreign minister described as "unacceptable and threatening" US demands for verifiable restrictions for a period of 10 years. Iranian officials demand a swift end of all sanctions as a condition for agreement. Both Iranians and Americans described numerous important and unresolved issues in the way of a final agreement.

Iranian demands remind us of Palestinians' rejections of far-reaching Israeli-American proposals. Most recently, Mahmoud Abbas could not bring himself to accept the transparently symbolic issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or the state of the Jewish people.

With all the pre-speech opposition and post-speech ridicule coming from the White House and its supporters in Congress and the media, the attention given to the speech has been impressive. Its historical standing may not reach  the Gettysburg Address, but even that did not get much attention at the time of its delivery.

The attention and the comments about the speech from respected politicians and media may already have had an impact on assertions from Kerry and Obama that they will not accept a bad deal. While those comments may be nothing more than political fluff, they may indicate an unspoken acknowledgement about Netanyahu's primary concern about Iranian intentions.

There may be no solution for the problem of Iran aspiring to regional and wider control, just as there is no solution for Palestinians who aspire to turn back the clock and regain territory lost in order to create a state without Jews.

Once again we see the need for coping, or managing conflicts for which there is no prospect of a comprehensive agreement and an end to dispute.

Israel and Palestinians have managed to accommodate one another in the West Bank, albeit imperfectly. The more overtly religious extremism of the Gaza leadership minimizes the prospect of opening borders for trade, work, and visits, as well as for security cooperation of the kind that has developed between Israel and Palestinians of the West Bank. 

It is not possible to predict what will emerge between Iran, its neighbors, and the West in the absence of an agreement. Sanctions may stay in place, with holes that allow Iran to deal with some countries. The combination of severe sanctions imposed by the economic giants of the US and the EU, and Iran's sale of oil to China, South Korea, and some other countries may keep Iran in a situation of minimum opportunities and internal tension, especially while the price of oil remains low. 

Much sooner will be the signs of Netanyahu's speech on Israeli politics. The first polls showed Likud gaining Knesset seats, but not surpassing Labor/Zionist Union. Netanyahu widened his personal lead over Herzog in Israeli's preference for a Prime Minister, but Likud's obvious partners among right-of-center parties dipped a bit, perhaps with their voters going to Likud.

Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog, the leader of Labor/Zionist Union was given a media opportunity immediately after Netanyahu's  speech. His task was difficult, in light of the widespread Israeli concern for Iran. Herzog managed to support Netanyahu's purpose while criticizing his failure to deal successfully with Iran. Then he reverted to a traditional Labor Party line that national defense required social equity. His text was less than ringing, and could have been copied from speeches of Israeli leftists from years past. It led media controllers to cease coverage. Either they felt there was nothing newsworthy, or they concluded that his remarks violated restrictions about broadcasting party propaganda close to an election. 

Likud activists are calling the Washington speech the best of campaign ads.

The test will come in less than two weeks.