Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Reflections on Netanyahu's speech to the U.S. Congress

So Benjamin Netanyahu threw out the conventional rule book, thumbing his nose at President Barack Obama, responding positively to the Boehner invitation to address the U.S. Congress in vehement protest against any potential deal with Iran over the production of fissionable material sufficient to create a nuclear weapon. Not only does the Israeli Prime Minister, just two weeks before his own national election, express total distrust for Iran, he also significantly squeezed the Obama administration into a very narrow opening in any attempt they will have to make to convince the American people, including Congress, of the validity of a new agreement with Iran. Of course, Netanyahu considers Iran's support for Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Iran's support for President Assad of Syria, along with the open and defiant support of Putin's Russia for all of those forces, an existential threat to the existence of Israel. And he is probably right in that part of his calculation.
However, not a word has been written or spoken since the Tuesday speech, about Israel's own possession of nuclear weapons. In fact, that possession of nuclear weapons, a benefit of the historic relationship with the United States, is a highly impacting factor in the mess that is the Middle East.
Not only is Israel's nuclear arsenal kept "secret" for all intents and purposes, but it raises the stakes in a potentially explosive cauldron that includes various degrees of  anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic sentiment, including practice, policy and even intimate parts of Muslim school curriculum in too many Saudi-funded schools for Muslim young men, primarily. This is not to say that Iran is committed to the acquisition of nuclear weapons for the sole reason that Israel already has them. It is, however, not rocket science to suspect that Israel's nuclear arsenal doe not go without serious notice being taken by all Muslim countries, leaders and people.
Why did Mr. Netanyahu not acknowledge the existence of his nuclear arsenal in his speech before the U.S.Congress?
Why does the United States itself, not take the cloak of secrecy of the Israeli stash of nuclear weapons?
If the world is ever going to de-escalate the increasingly tempestuous political and military and terror-filled cauldron that is the Middle East, surely the Israeli nuclear weapons will have to be disclosed, and even negotiated downwards, in terms of numbers, and even in terms of the potential damage they could inflict.
And yet, acting as the new "Churchill" in a context very different from that of 1938-9, Netanyahu plays his hand on the side of the Republican hawks in the Congress, while snubbing the one ally that mid-wifed Israel in its birth, and continues to "have her back" no matter how insulting and immature the Israeli Prime Minister's actions continue to be. However, back home, Netanyahu's political opponent Tzipi Livni, publicly notes that Israel now will have to "restore" the relationship with the United States, following the election. Obama wisely, and in a very restrained manner, did not appear in the same space with Netanyahu on this most recent trip, arguing both that he did not want to intervene in the internal political life of Israel and that Netanyahu did not provide a viable alternative to the negotiations currently underway in Switzerland between Iran and the Group of 5 plus 1. The treaty, if reached, would have to be ratified by the United Nations Security Council, and even if Iran signs and then usurps a treaty, at least the international community is on the hook to provide both effective monitoring and increased sanctions in the event of Iranian default.
The whole world is both watching and squirming as this process unfolds before our eyes. Of course, the integrity of the Iranian administration is in question. Both Israel and the Group of 5+1 agree on that. Both sides also agree that Iran must not possess, acquire or acquire the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. Such a move would significantly disturb the already shaky balance of power in the new and turbulent and evolving, (if not actually in revolution) Middle East.
The whole world is worried that one of the many iterations of Islamic terrorism will acquire a loose nuclear weapon, while this political theatre of negotiations with Iran plays itself out, in a time of enhanced economic sanctions, fully aware that a similar approach by the west with North Korea plowed headfast into a determination by North Korea to develop and even to export nuclear weapons.
There are both literally and metaphorically no good options, in the search for a path to thwart Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, and/or the capability of developing such weapons.
However, continue to act, speak and even to think or deny the existence of a substantial nuclear arsenal by Israel, while chest thumping about the dangers implicit in a nuclear-empowered Iran is one of the more hypocritical acts by any political axis, and that axis here refers to the United States and Israel.
Israel's existence must be protected, preserved, defended and assured, not only for the Israeli people, but for the future of the preservation of law, international justice and the potential implicit in personal and political freedom of existence for all. However, such a goal, worthy in its essential nature, requires that its not only exists but grows in its capacity to depend less and less on the possession of nuclear weapons. It also depends on Israel's willingness and courage to disclose not only the existence of that arsenal but the potential willingness to reduce its size, and even its potential deployment, as part of an overall vision of a new and improved, and less dangerous Middle East.
And Mr. Netanyahu, while he may have made some short-term political points through his speech, nevertheless, failed to achieve the kind of statesmanlike stature that the world so desperately needs at this very explosive time in our history.

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