'NY Times' and Jerusalem battle over Iran policy

Paper's editorial board blasts Netanyahu for his loud opposition to Washington's policies.

Netanyahu looking determined 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu looking determined 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
An ongoing battle between The New York Times editorial board and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu picked up steam over the weekend, with the Times blasting Netanyahu for his loud opposition to Washington’s policies, and Netanyahu confidant Gilad Erdan penning a response on Netanyahu’s behalf.
The Times editorial board has long championed an editorial line at great odds with Netanyahu’s policies.
This situation was not helped when the prime minister, during his speech on Iran to the UN in September, quoted from a 2005 Times editorial that applauded a diplomatic deal that it said would lead North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
“A year later, North Korea exploded its first nuclear weapons device,” Netanyahu said.
The next day, the Times pounded Netanyahu in a blistering editorial.
On Saturday, the Times – in an editorial titled “Not the Time to Squeeze Iran” – again championed diplomacy, writing that a “rare opportunity for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program is at risk because many lawmakers, urged on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, are insisting that Congress impose tougher economic sanctions.”
The editorial repeated US administration talking points about the danger of more sanctions: That they would not get Iran to abandon a program it has invested billions in; that fresh sanctions would destroy any emerging goodwill between Iran and the US; and that if Iran walks away from the talks because of the sanctions, Washington would be blamed, international unity for the sanctions would unravel, and countries “that have reduced imports of oil from Iran will find fewer reasons to continue doing so.
“The Iranians could conclude that America is determined to overthrow their entire system, and, as a result, accelerate efforts to build a nuclear bomb,” the Times wrote. “This, in turn, could end up leading to American military action ([US President Barack] Obama has said Iran will not be allowed to acquire a weapon), engaging a war-weary America in yet another costly conflict and further destabilizing the region, while setting Iran’s nuclear program back by only a few years.”
The piece concluded that Obama deserved more time to negotiate a deal, and that Congress could always impose more sanctions if the deal fell through or if Iran were caught cheating.
“But if talks fail now,” the editorial ended ominously, “Mr. Netanyahu and the hard-line interest groups will own the failure, and the rest of us will pay the price.”
On Saturday night, Erdan, the home front defense minister, circulated a response titled – in a direct response to the Times headline – “Precisely the Time to Squeeze Iran.”
Erdan said that Israel wanted a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but that diplomacy should be a means to ending Iran’s nuclear program, not the end in itself.
“The deal on the table (the details of which have been widely reported) makes more likely the very two outcomes its proponents seek to prevent – a nuclear-armed Iran or the use of force against Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure before it’s too late,” he wrote.
Erdan said that the two assumptions underpinning the deal – that Iran will freeze its nuclear program for six months and that the sanctions relief it will receive will be “moderate” – are both mistaken.
“To freeze its program, Iran would not only have to stop the construction of its plutonium-producing heavy water reactor and add no further centrifuges. It would also have to halt all uranium enrichment, which Iran refuses to do,” he wrote.
“An agreement that allows Iran to continue enrichment of material for nuclear bombs while talks go on will not freeze Iran’s nuclear program.”
Nor, he wrote, was the sanctions relief being offered moderate.
“Allowing the Iranian regime access to billions of dollars would significantly ease the very pressure that has brought Iran to the table in the first place. In a tanking economy like Iran’s, these changes will make a big difference. The current sanctions regime took years to put in place and is likely to fray quickly once the proposed deal kicks in,” he said.
If Iran refused to dismantle centrifuges and its plutonium reactor and stop enrichment now, he asked, “why would it agree to do so after the pressure on it has been reduced? If a deal this bad is the first step, what comes next?”
According to Erdan, reflecting the government’s position, “Sanctions should continue to increase for as long as Iran continues to produce the infrastructure and fuel for nuclear weapons. Anything less will make both Iran’s attainment of nuclear weapons and the use of force to prevent it more likely.”
“Contrary to the New York Times editorial,” he concluded, “this is precisely ‘the time to squeeze Iran.’ If the P5+1 do so and thereby succeed in reaching an agreement that peacefully and genuinely ends Iran’s nuclear weapons program, preventing it from becoming a threshold nuclear military power, we will all have Prime Minister Netanyahu among others to thank for their vigilance.”