Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress is:
A bald political move to shore up support for his candidacy in imminent Israeli elections.
A misguided attempt to meddle in American partisan politics and embarrass President Obama.
A straightforward effort to express sincere concerns about the Iranian danger, and the conviction that any negotiations with Iran are inherently misguided.
My guess? A bit of “all of the above.”
There’s no doubt that Mr. Netanyahu’s presenting himself as a prophet before the legislature of the superpower ally of Israel (if not as leader of the Jewish People itself, a mantel he’s been donning of late) will help him in his reelection bid. Or that he has often seized opportunities to express his dislike of Mr. Obama. (Yes, it’s mutual; kamayim hapanim lapanim … “As water reflects a face, so the heart of a man to a man.” – Mishlei, 27:19.)
But only a hardened cynic would assume that Mr. Netanyahu’s concern about Iran is a guise, that his disdain for negotiations isn’t sincere. It surely is.
But is it right?
For those who insist on seeing Mr. Obama as, at best, insufficiently concerned with Jews or Israel, the answer is clear. Those would be the people who condemn Mr. Obama’s reluctance to use the word “Islam” when referring to Islamist terrorism, and reject his reasoning that doing so would alienate 1.5 billion Muslims. And who seized on the president’s abysmal choice of adverb in a long interview, when he referred to “vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
Whether the president meant to say “wanton” or just didn’t realize what he was saying (which happens to many a speaker), a president has no excuse for imprecision. The pouncing critics, though, ignored the fact that, in the wake of the attack, the White House called it a “violent assault on the Jewish community” and “the latest in a series of troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism.” Those intractable critics of Mr. Obama surely reject, as a matter of principle, his strategy regarding Iran.
No one doubts that Iran’s leaders are evil men, and cannot be trusted. How, though, to thwart their nuclear intentions? Mr. Netanyahu insists that Iran must shut down all its centrifuges, the machines at the core of the uranium-enrichment process, something no one believes Iran will ever do. The U.S. has chosen the path of negotiation (with, of course, verification, and likely some Stuxnet-style “alternate strategies” — one example of which was unfortunately uncovered by the Russian firm Kaspersky Lab last week), carrying the big stick of sanctions, which is what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.
If there were a practical option of just bombing Iranian nuclear sites to Islamic heaven, that would be the clear course of action. Unfortunately, no such option exists, and such an attempt would inflame not only Iran but its proxies and its friends like Russia and China, likely ushering in World War III.
Mr. Netanyahu has been bristling at reports that the current state of negotiations will leave a large number of centrifuges operational. But anyone who researches the subject will quickly learn that there are a number of factors, like how the machines are configured and what will happen to fuel produced by them, that render the number of centrifuges less than crucial.
Mr. Netanyahu is the face of Israel. But he isn’t a nuclear expert. (Recall his 2012 speech before the U.N., where he held up a cartoon bomb and implied that by the following spring Iran would have nuclear weapons.) Someone who is, though, is the retired head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Uzi Eilam. And Mr. Eilam favors the negotiations approach, and asserts that “Netanyahu and other politicians have instilled a terrible and unnecessary fear in the Israeli public.”
Are he and Obama right? Or is Bibi? I don’t know, but neither do the posse of pundits who wouldn’t know a centrifuge from a centipede but loudly declare that Obama can’t be trusted and that Bibi is, if not melech Yisrael, at least the wisest of men.
The negotiations may well fail, which will trigger even harsher sanctions against Iran. To some, that will be a good thing. To others, an unrestricted Iran is cause for the deepest concern.
None of us can know whether or not to root for the negotiations’ success. What we all can do, though, is be mispallel that this Adar will bring about a modern-day Purim miracle in the land of the original one.