In an emotional address to Congress Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded with the United States and the Obama administration to stand with Israel, reject a possible deal with Iran and to hold out for a much better deal.
The problem is that there is no better deal; Netanyahu knows there is no better deal; and his suggestion otherwise is a fundamentally dishonest evasion. No serious analyst believes that Iran can be forced to surrender its entire civilian nuclear program, as Netanyahu demands; no Iranian government could make such a concession and survive the national humiliation. In setting that goal, Netanyahu knows that the only way it could be accomplished is through the use of overwhelming military force that is followed by a long-term occupation of Iran.
Furthermore, no one believes that our partners in these negotiations and sanctions — Russia, France, Germany, China and Great Britain — will continue to enforce strict sanctions once they conclude that Iran is willing to negotiate a deal but the United States has walked away. If that happens — and that’s precisely what Netanyahu advocates — the global sanctions regime will collapse, international weapons inspections will cease and Iran will have no reason not to resume its march toward a nuclear weapon.
It is critically important to note that the only progress made by the West in halting or slowing the Iranian weapons program has come through these ongoing negotiations. The George W. Bush administration refused to negotiate with Iran and “addressed” the issue through a combination of military threats and half-effective sanctions. As a result, the number of nuclear centrifuges in Iran grew from 164 to more than 7,000 when Bush left office. By the time these negotiations began in 2013, the Iranians had succeeded in enriching more than 200 kilograms of uranium to at least 20 percent purity, yet as a condition of beginning the talks, that enriched uranium has since been converted or diluted to a less dangerous form. That is real, verifiable progress.
The truth is, Netanyahu doesn’t oppose just this deal with Iran. He opposes any deal. He does not believe that the Iranian regime can be trusted to keep it. (Nor does the Obama administration, which advocates a policy of “distrust but verify.”) He does not believe that a strict weapons inspections will be able to enforce it. He demands a guarantee, and it would be great if we could give him one. But if you study his writings and public statements, he believes that the only such guarantee is regime change in Iran and other Islamic nations.
In testimony to Congress in 2002, for example, Netanyahu insisted that only regime change could halt Saddam Hussein’s all-out effort to build a nuclear weapon. “If anyone makes an opposite assumption, or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment,” he said with a bravado much like that he displayed Tuesday.
In both Iraq and Iran, the goal was not just regime change, Netanyahu said, but “regime change in the fundamental meaning of that word.”
“You really have to start changing the mentality, the poison, toxified mentality that these regimes have put into the minds of millions, hundreds of millions,” he said. “That is the real task, the great challenge…. once the regimes are ousted, it is to begin the process of democratization in these places which harbor this militancy today.”
The model that Netanyahu brought up repeatedly was the decades-long occupation of Germany. “Five, six decades later when you say, what is the protection against neo-Naziism, the re-emergence of a new Hitler in Germany? It is not American tanks or NATO soldiers; it is German democracy,” he said. “There are neo-Nazis there, but they are simply washed away by democracy.”
That is his plan; I do not believe it is realistic in the slightest, not in a nation more than twice as populous as Iraq. And if the American people are given an honest choice, I don’t believe it is the option they would be willing to support.