The euphoria over the Iran nuclear agreement has evaporated. Its most inveterate enemy is Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Shortly after the agreement, he warned the US public that it would threaten Israel’s survival and increase the risk of “a horrific war”. This is a brazen attempt to whip up hysteria on the basis of misinformation.
Netanyahu’s fear mongering on Iran started a while ago. At the UN General Assembly in 2012, he unveiled a large cartoon of a bomb with a red line across it, just below the mouth. This was how close Iran was to making a bomb, he said. Later, the world would learn that the Mossad had told him Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb. The Mossad probably knew what a US Congress Research Service report revealed two months later: although Iran had enough low-enriched uranium in August 2012 to build five-seven bombs, it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of 20 per cent to make even one bomb. The CRS concluded that Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it “abruptly” in 2003.
Netanyahu’s second deception is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions till it gives up trying to acquire not just nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could facilitate this in future. He knows no government in Iran can agree to this. So what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative — a military attack on Iran. Since he also knows that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these, he does not want the strike to end till it has destroyed Iranian infrastructure, industry and research facilities.
Netanyahu knows Israel will need US help for such an operation. But President Barack Obama has learned from recent experience that US interests don’t always tally with those of its allies in the Middle East. So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: get the US Congress to insert clauses in the treaty that Iran will be forced to reject and take advantage of the ensuing paranoia to push the West into an attack.
Netanyahu is joined by another friend of the US, Saudi Arabia. At the end of February, Riyadh and Tel Aviv signed an agreement that would allow Israeli warplanes to fly over Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. Less than four weeks later, Saudi Arabia declared war on the Houthis, whom it has portrayed as a minority bent on taking over Yemen with the backing of Iran. The timing of the Saudi attack, its insistence that the Houthis are proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding with Israel. The Houthis attacked Sanaa last September. Why did the Saudis wait till March to send bombers in?
Iran has kept out of the Yemen conflict so far, but the one-sided resolution passed by the UNSC, the resignation of the UN special envoy for Yemen, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution to the conflict, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in Tehran. Iraq PM Haidar al-Abadi’s criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington shows he is aware that these developments are darkening prospects of Iran’s rehabilitation and Iraq’s future.
To stop this drift, Obama needs to make plain how far Israel’s interests have diverged from the US’s under Netanyahu’s tenure, and how Israel has used its special relationship with the US to push the latter into actions that imperilled its own security. He needs to remind Americans that to convert a nuclear device into a bomb, Iran will need to master the physics of bomb-making and carry out at least one test explosion. That will make escaping detection pretty impossible.
Finally, Obama needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know the price they will pay if they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back the sanctions, but it will also vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a preemptive military strike virtually unavoidable. Should a military strike destroy Iran’s economy, it will cause the creation of thousands of Shia jihadis. The security that Netanyahu claims it will bring will turn out to be an illusion.
Jha is a senior journalist and author.