Prime Minister Netanyahu’s warm-up pep talk today at AIPAC (the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee) was a classic chutzpahdik performance: he claimed respect for President Obama and his office, appreciation for unprecedented US assistance, and insistence on the importance of bipartisan support in the US for the close relationship with Israel. He even lauded his wife, who has been a serious source of embarrassment.
Netanyahu cited agreement between the US and Israel that Iran should not have nuclear weapons but disagreement on the methods to achieve that goal. Israel, he said, has to worry about its survival, whereas the US worries about its security. Netanyahu claimed Israel can and will defend itself, citing the attack on the Osiraq reactor, the invasion of Lebanon and other instances where the US and Israel disagreed. Israel weathered these disagreements and will weather the current one because of common values and (metaphorical as well as real) family relationships.
The alliance, Netanyahu said, is strong and get stronger.
This is fantasy. Netanyahu has done serious harm to relations with the United States by disrespecting its president, accepting a one-party invitation to address the Congress, bringing his re-election campaign to Washington, and opposing an agreement with Iran without proposing an alternative that would make Israel more secure. He has split the American Jewish community, most of which is far more interested in an agreement not only with Iran but also with the Palestinians than Netanyahu is. Israel is losing ground steadily and irreversibly among young American Jews.
We’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s speech in Congress to hear Netanyahu’s substantive arguments against a nuclear agreement with Iran that lengthens the time it would need to make a nuclear weapon to a year and imposes strict monitoring requirements.
It is hard to picture how Israel would end up better off without such an agreement. Iran would then be free to pursue nuclear weapons at whatever pace it decides. Israel lacks the military punch required to take out dozens of often underground nuclear facilities farther from its territory than the single Syrian and Iraqi reactors it destroyed in the past. Even if it could damage vital nuclear facilities, the Iranians would reconstitute their program and forge ahead, making it necessary to attack the nuclear facilities again within a few years. The sanctions regime that has slowed the Iranian nuclear program and brought Tehran to the negotiating table will fall apart if there is no agreement.
I can agree with Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s support for terrorism. Not just its nuclear program but also its support for extremists in many parts of the world are deplorable. But unless he has an alternative worth considering, tomorrow’s speech on the nuclear issue will be nothing but more bluster.