Cassandra at Turtle Bay
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech last Wednesday at the U.N. warning the world about the Iranian nuclear program proved no more popular with the press mandarins at The New York Times than Winston Churchill's constant alarums about a revanchanist German proved with the press poobahs in England in the '30s. Like Churchill in his time, Netanyahu has become a Cassandra offering dire warnings that are too painful to contemplate, and which the world therefore prefers to ignore.
Netanyahu constructed a thoroughly documented lawyer's brief arguing that Iran is entitled to no presumption of innocence with respect to its nuclear program. Newly installed Iranian President Hasan Rouhani had claimed in his speech at the U.N. that Iran's nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. Netanyahu had a few questions for him. Why does a nation with enough oil and gas reserves to last 200 years require a nuclear program? And if that program is purely civilian, why was Iran caught hiding underground facilities at Natanz in 2002 and Fordow, in the mountains near Qom, in 2009?
And if that program is peaceful, why has Iran enriched uranium far beyond the level of any conceivable civilian use? Why does it insist of building a hugely expensive infrastructure for enrichment, when it could purchase enriched uranium directly from Russia at a fraction of the cost? Finally, what possible civilian calculus could make it worthwhile for Iran to endure economic sanctions that have crippled the economy and almost completely depleted its foreign currency reserves rather than comply with U.N. resolutions on its enrichment program?
If Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, Netanyahu demanded to know, why was the regime working on intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching Europe today and the United States within three or four years? Why has it, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, tested nuclear triggers, worked on mathematical modeling of missile trajectories of nuclear weapons, and tested components of nuclear weapons
NETANYAHU TOOK AIM at the "moderate" credentials of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and the meaningfulness of that designation in the Iranian context. He noted that Rouhani served as head of the Iranian National Security Council from 1989 through 2003, during which time Iranian henchman gunned down three Kurdish nationalists in a Berlin restaurant in 1992. (According to a German court, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and then president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani were full involved in ordering the assassinations.) During that same period, Iranian secret services were responsible for the bombings of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered, and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, in which 19 U.S. service died.
Rouhani's lament of the "human tragedy in Syria" rings a little hollow, Netanyahu noted, when Bashir Assad remains in power only by virtue of the Iranian Revolution Guard and Hezbollah troops fighting on his behalf. Rouhani's condemnation of the "violent scourge of terrorism" is a bit strange coming from the mouth of president of the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, which has been involved in terrorist attacks or plots in 25 cities in the last three years, including a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C.
The difference between Iranian a "moderate" and a "hard-liner," said Netanyahu, is that between wolf in sheep's clothing and a wolf in wolf's clothing. Rouhani, he noted, has been a loyal servant of the Islamic Revolution almost for three decades, and was one of only six candidates allowed to stand for election out of nearly 700 who submitted their names for consideration.
The Prime Minister might have noted that moderation of previous "moderate" presidents never extended to Israel or an abhorrence of nuclear weapons. Rafsanjani mused in a public speech at Teheran University that "one atomic bomb could wipe out Israel" and frequently referred to Israel as a "one-bomb" country. His successor Mohammed Khatami laid out the logic of a nuclear exchange with Israel. One nuclear bomb would wipe out tiny Israel, while a comparable Israeli response would leave the overwhelming majority of the Iranian population intact.
NETANYAHU DID NOT DOUBT Rouhani's sincere desire for negotiations with the West. But he warned against confusing the Iranian eagerness for negotiations with a willingness to dismantle its nuclear program in a fashion that would not allow it to ramp it up again at a time of its choosing.
The charm offensive for which Rouhani has been selected, Netanyahu charged, is designed only to loosen the noose of sanctions from around Iran's neck. He noted that the Iranians are masters at the use of negotiations to gain time to develop their nuclear program. Rouhani himself has frequently boasted of how as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator he kept the Europeans talking in Teheran, even as Iran completed work on its nuclear conversion facility at Isfahan. He is pursuing the same strategy today, Netanyahu implied: using a moderate façade to gain time for Iran's race towards nuclear capability.
Netanyahu noted an uncomfortable truth his listeners would prefer not to have heard: a bad diplomatic agreement is worse then none at all. He reminded the General Assembly that in 2005 North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear program and admit international inspectors. The New York Times proclaimed, "diplomacy, it seems does work after all." A year later North Korea tested its first nuclear weapons device.
A nuclear Iran guided by an expansionist ideology, possessed of huge oil and gas resources, sitting athwart one of the world's vital waterways, through which much of its oil passes, and with sleeper terror cells positioned around the world, said Netanyahu, is fifty times more dangerous than the backward, impoverished hermit kingdom of North Korea.
THE PRIME MINISTER'S STERN ADDRESS did not sit well with the New York Times. The Times characterized the speech as "aggressive," "combative," and "filled with sarcasm," and went so far as to accuse Netanyahu of seeming "eager" for a military attack.
The Grey Lady fretted that Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress "were so blinded by distrust of Iran" that they might "block President Obama from taking advantage of new diplomatic openings and sabotage the best chance to establish a new relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution."
Yet the paper did not challenge a single fact presented by Netanyahu, and acknowledged that Israel has "legitimate reasons to be wary." Nor did it provide a scintilla of evidence that Iran is prepared to dismantle its nuclear program, as opposed to making cosmetic concessions in an effort to achieve a reduction in sanctions. Supreme Leader Khameini, not Rouhani, has the only vote that counts, and there is no indication his position has changed.
The fear that Netanyahu and his "hard-line" supporters could block the President from taking new diplomatic openings is absurd. Netanyahu has no power to dictate to Obama, even if he wanted to. Equally absurd is the charge that Netanyahu is spoiling for a fight. Netanyahu knows well that an Israeli attack even if successful (which is by no means guaranteed) would at most set back the Iranian program a few years.
And it would come at a huge cost to Israel. Iran and its Hezbollah allies would surely respond with heavy missile attacks on Israel, and Iran would likely loose sleeper cells against Israeli and perhaps American targets around the world. The diplomatic fallout would be horrendous, especially if there was any negotiating process going on, and might result in heavy sanctions against Israel. In short, no Israeli prime minister would attack unless convinced that Iran was on the bring of nuclear capacity. The only thing worse than the parade of horribles enumerated above would be a nuclear Iran committed to wiping Israel off the face of the map.
WHAT MAKES IT SO HARD for Western elites to hear Netanyahu's argument or even treat it as one worthy of refutation? Two idees fixes guide those elites. The first is that military force or the threat thereof must always be only a last resort; the second diplomatic talks are always positive. The failure of the West to confront Hitler at Munich, which would likely have resulted in the revolt of the German General Staff against Hitler, resulted in the deaths of tens of millions in World War II. And the last ten years of nuclear negotiations with Iran disprove the second proposition. Negotiations have benefitted only Iran and allowed it to arrive at the very brink of nuclear capability.
We live, Alain Finkelkraut has observed, in an age of theory, in which an elegant theory trumps a thousand unruly facts. This is not theory in the scientific sense. The theories are not built upon observed facts, and unlike scientific hypotheses they are not subject to refutation by the facts.
Lee Smith in the National Review outlines the "theory" behind the Rouhani fever sweeping the Western media. He calls it "junior year abroad sociology," according to which all societies are basically alike. Each society has its moderates and hardliners. The former want to raise their families in peace, find meaningful labor, and take intellectually rewarding vacations. The latter want only power, which they gain by promoting fear of the Other, even at the risk of sending their neighbors children to war.
Thus if Rouhani is a "moderate" and Netanyahu a "hardliner," the former must be trusted. Maybe Rouhani did not actually condemn the Holocaust denial, as CNN interviewer Christine Amanpour claimed. But since it is well-known he is a "moderate," he must condemn it, and Amanpour telling viewers that he did is a noble act of cultivating peace.
The notion that all people basically want the same things and all societies are alike prevents Western elites from taking seriously the power of Islam or concerning themselves with its theological logic. They cannot give credence to the Islamic Revolution's expressed goal of world domination for Islam any more than they could take seriously Hitler's discussion of the need of Lebensraum for the master Aryan race in Mein Kampf, in which he laid out in great detail his plan for world conquest.
Netanyahu took notice of the delusional myopia of those who think all the chants of "Death to America! Death to Israel!" are nothing more than "wild rhetoric and just bluster for domestic consumption."
To them, he responded that the world may have forgotten but the Jewish people have not the central lesson of the twentieth century: "[W]hen a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power, sooner or later its appetite for aggression knows no bounds."