Bibi and the bomb

That Netanyahu can vehemently denounce the nuclear agreement with Iran but keep his nuclear arsenal out of public debate is a miracle of biblical proportions.

The following article is a translation of a piece that appeared in El Pais on 5 March.

It was a vibrant speech, agree observers, that Benjamin Netanyahu delivered last week at the US Congress decrying Obama’s intention to conclude a nuclear talk with Iran. For some strange reason, all the press coverage made the same mistake: identifying Netanyahu as the “Prime Minister of Israel”. Odd when you consider that the last thing Bibi did was to act as prime minister of an allied country. Surely the misunderstanding is due to the difficulties in choosing between the two alternatives, though both more realistic. It is not difficult to imagine the main television channels’ news producers debating over whether to describe Netanyahu as a Republican congressman from Jerusalem or as a Likud party candidate for the general elections that will take place in Israel this coming 17 March. Because that’s exactly what Netanyahu did: use fear of Iran to promote himself as candidate for prime minister and, in turn, weaken Obama in the eyes of the Republicans.

Bear in mind that the US is not a friend of Israel, but its main supporter.

That Netanyahu can vehemently denounce the nuclear agreement with Iran and, simultaneously, keep his nuclear arsenal estimated at 60 to 80 warheads and fissile materials out of public debate and international treaties, is a miracle of biblical proportions only possible in that area of the world. Bear in mind that the US is not a friend of Israel, but its main supporter. Without Washington’s diplomatic support in the UN Security Council, Israel would have had to choose some time ago between signing a just peace with the Palestinians and withdrawing from the West Bank or be exposed to an international sanctions regime similar to that directed at apartheid South Africa. And without the more than 3,000 million dollars that US contributors (including Obama voters) transfer annually for military assistance, the Israelis could not maintain a military advantage over their neighbours. Without US support, Israel would not be an island of development and democracy in the Middle East, but an isolated barracks in an unfriendly neighbourhood.

The Republicans will have to take more care and employ a little more common sense. Making Netanyahu believe himself to be the proprietor of US foreign policy does no favours for Israel or for themselves. Whether because Tehran, feeling threatened, decides to break the nuclear agreement and go for the bomb or because Israel unilaterally decides to bomb the Iranian nuclear installations and the new US president lacks the authority to stop them, it is evident that if Netanyahu is re-elected and the Republicans win the 2016 presidential elections, the chances of a war with Iran will increase exponentially. Perhaps it would make sense for Netanyahu to present himself at the next Republican primaries and opt for the Presidency; that would clarify everything. When the tail wags the dog, things go wrong.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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