ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the US congress last week was the most powerful I have had the privilege of hearing from any leader at any time. Maybe he overegged it; he is, after all, facing election. But Netanyahu and many fellow Israelis believe the threat from a nuclear-armed Iran is real and imminent.
The major powers do not. They believe they can allow Iran to re-emerge as a peaceful nuclear power without weapons.
The Jewish state has been under siege from the beginning.
The promise of a homeland for Jews was made on three occasions: by the British in 1917 (the Balfour Declaration); by the League of Nations in 1922 (the Mandate for Palestine); and in 1947 by the UN General Assembly. The State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948 on the day in which the British Mandate over Palestine expired. The new state was recognised that same day by the US and three days later by the Soviet Union. It was a carve-up of the spoils of victory of World War II. Finally, the Jews got lucky.
The Israelis, as they could now be called, took nothing for granted. They had to defend their new state from the beginning. They still do.
This is the context in which Netanyahu addressed the congress. The Israelis know the Iranian regime and they trust no one else, least of all Europe, to defend them against it. They believe the deal — a short-term freeze of portions of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for decreased economic sanctions against Iran — being negotiated by Britain, the US, Russia, China and France will not provide safety for Israel.
As Netanyahu said in his speech: “To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime. The people of Iran are very talented people … but in 1979 they were hijacked by religious zealots …
“Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its Revolutionary Guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, (Bashar al-) Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shi’ite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.”
Netanyahu’s fear is that cutting a deal with Iran is more likely because Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is the more immediate problem.
“The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war.” He goes on: “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America.” And his zinger line: “When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”
Netanyahu fears the deal is half-baked because it would leave Iran with its nuclear infrastructure, and that it could amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb very quickly.
“This deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
He counters the argument that Iran’s nuclear knowledge cannot be erased, only managed, with this: “Nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn’t get you very much. A race car driver without a car can’t drive.”
This leads Netanyahu to the heart of his proposition: “Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons.”
Netanyahu wants to destroy the nuclear hardware. The major powers think this is not achievable. “For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
But can Israel attack Iran?
A world without Israel is difficult to imagine, yet it lives under constant threat. Perhaps Israeli electors will agree with the major powers deal and toss Netanyahu. I doubt it.
The text of the establishment of the state of Israel rings out: Israel “made deserts bloom … and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants”.
My Jewish friends, if you ever lose your homeland, come to Australia, make our deserts bloom, create a thriving community and defend it.
Article by AIP director Gary Johns, first published in The Australian on March 10th 2015.