Paging Naftali Bennett: The Iranian regime and its nuclear program are bad enough, and you don’t have to talk nonsense to make it worse. There is no benefit to Israel in exaggerating the problematic aspects of the world powers’ apparently emerging revamped nuclear deal with Iran.
It’s also a bad idea to praise Donald Trump for pulling out of the previous deal – which damaged US credibility – while reinforcing sentiment among Israelis that the Party American Democrat is an enemy. The Democrats have their problems and the electoral system undermines them, but they are also probably the natural majority and they are supported by most American Jews. Israel would be wise to maintain bipartisanship as it once did.
It was therefore disappointing to here’s Bennett parroting the trope of the old regime on the past and possibly future nuclear deal: that it allows Iran to supposedly “gallop” towards the bomb when it expires. This is the sleight of hand that Benjamin Netanyahu has deployed; gallop is the word that was chosen for the brand, and its success in confounding the gullible was enormous.
This included Trump, and possibly Bennett as well, as the Prime Minister put it this way in his comments in recent days: “The biggest problem with this deal is that within two and a half years, which is fast approaching , Iran will be able to develop, install and operate advanced centrifuges. Imagine advanced spinner centrifuge stages – that’s allowed in this deal.
This Netanyahu drumbeat has been so consistent that one might have concluded that Barack and Michelle Obama would be personally offended if Iran did not rush to build a bomb.
An interesting aspect of human nature makes it difficult to refute such absurd illogicality: we want to to believe. People tend to assume a complex hidden truth, especially when the lie is delivered by a confident, deep, jackhammer baritone.
And yet, the truth is simple and quite obvious. There is absolutely nothing in the deal – neither the past nor surely the one to come – that says Iran will be allowed to move towards a bomb when it expires. The deal, as usual with deals through the ages, says nothing about what happens when it expires.
So what will happen? Will Iran have global consent to build stadiums filled with centrifuges, like Netanyahu and now Bennett too? Prophesying is a wild ride, but we can gamble: the same powers will offer Iran renewal and expansion with the same threat of debilitating sanctions should it refuse. Like now. Overall, the world does not and will not want a nuclear Iran.
Moreover, the West is still committed to Israel’s survival (which may not last forever). This is not the only reason to seek a non-nuclear Iran, but it requires great efforts to stop the nuclear program. Thus, the negotiators effectively give Iran a noose on issues deemed less critical – such as the terrible damage Iran is causing in Syria. If Israel does not want a nuclear Iran and understands the principle of priorities in life, it should salute the efforts of President Biden and his allies.
The Israeli security establishment understands all of this and has for years been rather ambivalent on the issue. But some politicians clearly calculate that there is public benefit in unrest. Is it any wonder that this now includes Bennett, who served Netanyahu for so long?
I say yes, because Bennett harbored some hopes for better things. He projects a measure of sobriety, professionalism, and incorruptibility, seems disinclined to lie, and eschews the pathological use of the first person while rushing headlong to take credit for every success imaginable. It’s not a pacifist’s cup of tea, but it’s easier to see Bennett negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas than agitating against the justice system. In a world that has gone off the rails, this is not nothing: the mini-me has imposed itself as a mini-mensch.
Until the question of Iran arises. What is it about Iran that makes Israeli politicians so childish? Perhaps Netanyahu really is all-powerful and just as he ‘normalized’ the inclusion of an Arab party in the coalition by flirting with Raam in his desperation last spring, he has also normalized fury towards the Iran.
To be clear: I don’t want Iran to get a bomb or become a threshold state, which is actually the most feasible option. Indeed, I see the Islamic Republic as a threat, primarily to the unfortunate Iranian people. More sophisticated and even moderate than most, they deserve a democracy that offers freedom and prosperity, no less than the Israelis.
So I would like the world to put more pressure on the Iranians. It would be great if Tehran understood that terrible consequences would result from one more ballistic missile, from a continued intervention in Yemen, from a single execution of a person who should live. But the world isn’t quite ready to fight for a better outcome because it isn’t ready to go to war with Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. The world is still a bit of a jungle. If Israel wants to solve the Houthis problem, it will have to do it on its own.
In the meantime, there is the nuclear program to confront, as it has for a quarter of a century or so, and on this question Israel would do well to take yes for an answer. It is precisely in the absence of an agreement whereby Iran was able to accelerate its uranium enrichment and move closer and closer to armament. It’s the lack of a perilous deal for Israel, as well as for the region and the world. Halting Iran’s nuclear program, even temporarily, is good, and paying the price to do so by agreement is unavoidable.
Israel’s insistence on a false narrative has its own price: it is not taken very seriously in other areas. For example, when he denies that he presides over a version of apartheid in the West Bank, and when he argues that the Palestinians are generally to blame.
So, dear Israeli leaders: give Iran a rest and stop pining for Donald Trump (latest news from call Putin a genius). Let world powers buy you time; perhaps, if you’re feeling civilized, offer a thank you note.
If Israel faces any existential danger, and it most certainly does, it resides considerably closer to home, just above the hills in the occupied West Bank.
Dan Perry is the former Cairo-based Middle East Editor and Europe/Africa Editor of the London-based Associated Press, served as President of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem and is the author of two books on Israel. A technologist by training, he is director of business development at adtech company Engageya and managing partner at award-winning communications company Thunder11. Follow him on twitter.com/perry_dan www.linkedin.com/in/danperry1 www.instagram.com/danperry63 https://www.facebook.com/DanPerryWriter/ https://muckrack.com/dan-perry-22