Five minutes to midnight

The P5+1 is reportedly on the brink of a deal that would leave Iran with its nuclear infrastructure intact.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the context of its continuing confrontation with the West, Iran views Israel as low-hanging fruit. From an Israeli point of view, the Iranian picture seems clear. Iran is accelerating the arming of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and expanding its influence across the Middle East, even as it engages in nuclear negotiations with the West, precisely because Washington has signaled to Tehran through the course of these negotiations that the region is ripe for the picking.
The Iranian regime today controls four additional countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Israeli security echelons understand that the Islamic regime has been at war to destroy the Jewish state since 1979.
This context to the current Iranian negotiations with the Western powers keeps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu up at night. The Americans can not possibly empathize with or grasp intellectually the depth of Israel’s national security concerns.
Netanyahu, continuing the decades-old Israeli doctrine of self-reliance, knows that Israel must defend itself by itself against Iranian terrorism and nuclear weapons.
This is a major motivating source for Netanyahu’s insistence on warning the US Congress that its now five minutes to midnight.
The deal being hammered out by the P5+1 and Iran reportedly fails to confront – or even consider – Iranian-backed terrorism, which continues to metastasize across the region.
In line with perfect Iranian political choreography, American and Iranian forces have recently joined forces to battle the radical Sunni Islamic State. Historical errors do repeat themselves. The idea of regarding Iran as a potential ally was given brief consideration after the 9/11 attacks, when some argued that Iran and the West shared “mutual interests” in stabilizing the region.
Only later, when NATO leaders discovered Iran was fueling both sides of the conflict and providing insurgents with weapons that later killed thousands of NATO troops, was the argument rendered moot.
The P5+1 is reportedly on the brink of a deal that would leave Iran with its nuclear infrastructure intact. To prevent an Iranian nuclear break-out in the future, the deal would, Pollyanna-like, rely on inspections that have failed to detect nuclear activity in the past. If the agreement has a “sunset clause” as reported, by the time it expires Iran will have amassed an industrial- scale nuclear program. The West, for its part, would find itself further divided, with insufficient willpower to rebuild the international sanctions regime that caused Iran to capitulate. Eventually, a military confrontation with Iran will be unavoidable.
A major question is whether military engagement would occur before or after Iran tightens its grip on Shi’ite strongholds in the Middle East and kills scores more US and allied troops.
Unlike the United States, Israel is fewer than 1,000 miles from Iran; there is little margin for error. That is why Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, has repeatedly said that Israel’s “no tolerance” policy for Iranian uranium enrichment is not merely to prevent Iran from having a nuclear bomb today, but to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon tomorrow. A plan that would effectively allow Iran the right to enrich uranium and leave its nuclear infrastructure intact is unacceptable to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address in Washington to the US Congress, which the White House has severely managed to outmaneuver in the talks, was meant to explain that the deal on the table does not effectively dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Rather it leaves Iran a nuclear-threshold state.
The Netanyahu speech did not have partisan design – not only because British Prime Minister Cameron and other European leaders have already briefed Congress about the Iran issue, but also because Prime Minister Netanyahu, an expert on the Iranian terrorism threat, is uniquely qualified to deliver that message.
Unfortunately, some in the US and elsewhere have accused the prime minister and his team of orchestrating the speech as a political ploy. Of course, by focusing exclusively on the politics rather than the policy angle they are placing not only Israel but the US and the free world at inestimable risk of Iranian nuclear assault.
Iranian leaders are intent on annihilating Israel, and they have repeatedly emphasized that nuclear weapons would provide them with means to achieve that goal. Before the P5+1 signs a bad deal with Iran, it was only right that Congress hear and understand why Israel will not simply roll over and heel to Iran’s messianic, doomsday designs.
Aside from former British prime minister Winston Churchill, Netanyahu is the only leader to address Congress three times.
That’s because, like Churchill, Netanyahu is the only world leader capable of uniting the American people and convincing Congress that the Iranian nuclear issue is truly a matter of life-and-death.
The author is the host of National Security on Global radio from Jerusalem.
He is also a research fellow at the Institute for Counter Terrorism at the IDC Herzliya and a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.