While the frenzy over the shutdown is taking up much of the media’s time, drowning out the Republicans’ messaging on Obamacare, there is also the matter of foreign policy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the United Nations, which was both illuminating and bracing. He began by putting the current danger from Iran in historical perspective for the Jewish state: “Today our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction. But I want you to know, that wasn’t always the case. Some 2,500 years ago the great Persian king Cyrus ended the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. . . .That’s a Persian decree. And thus began an historic friendship between the Jews and the Persians that lasted until modern times.” And it is also a clever reminder of Jews’ attachment for thousands of years to the land of Israel.
Unlike President Obama, he refused to paint the new Iranian president as anything other than a lackey of the regime, reciting his tenure as security chief during numerous terror attacks and his role in “mastermind[ing] the — the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smoke screen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric.”
He pointedly reminded the U.N. that others respect Israeli red lines, but Iran has figured a way to evade if not violate it. “Last year when I spoke here at the UN I drew a red line. Now, Iran has been very careful not to cross that line but Iran is positioning itself to race across that line in the future at a time of its choosing.”
But if there was a single message, it was that while Iran may be convinced of U.S. gullibility, Israel is holding the U.S. feet to the fire. Obama may be eager to throw out sanctions, but Netanyahu isn’t going to accept a phony agreement in exchange for sanctions relief. (“Rouhani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it too. And he has another reason to believe that he can get away with this. And that reason is called North Korea.”) He warned against falling for Rouhani’s predictable routine, no doubt with the U.S. Congress clearly in mind:
So here is what the international community must do: First, keep up the sanctions. If Iran advances its nuclear weapons program during negotiations, strengthen the sanctions.
Second, don’t agree to a partial deal. A partial deal would lift international sanctions that have taken years to put in place in exchange for cosmetic concessions that will take only weeks for Iran to reverse.
Third, lift the sanctions only when Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program.
But ultimately, as it always is with a rogue state, it is only the threat of force which causes capitulation. And in that regard Netanyahu will not bank on Obama’s shattered credibility: “ Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. Yet, in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others.”
He finished with a standard invitation for the Palestinians to negotiate for a Palestinian state in return for recognition of the Jewish state. But unlike Obama, Netanyahu did not dwell on the unattainable. (“I am prepared to make an historic compromise for genuine and enduring peace, but I will never compromise on the security of my people and of my country, the one and only Jewish state.”)
Netanyahu quite openly has given up banking on U.S. military action. He asks for only one thing: Keep the sanctions in place until a complete capitulation on the nuclear issue by Iran. That is a lesser “ask,” if you will, of the American president. He could do just that, couldn’t he? Well, he’ll need some spine-stiffening, precisely what Congress must provide. And if Obama does not achieve real success, Israel will act. Alone.
What is so refreshing about Netanyahu is that he leaves no wiggle room, no equivocation. He will not, he is saying, be the prime minister on whose watch the Jewish state let down her guard. As he said, “The last century has taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power, sooner or later its appetite for aggression knows no bounds.That’s the central lesson of the 20th century. And we cannot forget it. The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jewish people have not.”