Why Netanyahu Spurns an Iran Deal

With new Iranian leadership eager for détente, a negotiated settlement over its nuclear program is within reach. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears determined to torpedo an agreement and press ahead toward war, a prospect that ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar addresses.

By Paul R. Pillar

Benjamin Netanyahu will not support any agreement between the United States and Iran. Or to be more precise, he will not support any agreement that is at all reasonable and in both U.S. and Iranian interests and thus has any chance of being negotiated.

Give Netanyahu credit for consistency: he has long made it abundantly clear that he has no use at all for any negotiations with Iran or for any settlement of differences with Iran, on the nuclear issue or on anything else.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu thus is doing what he can to destroy the prospects for an agreement. This includes his usual scare-mongering as well as rhetorical tactics such as trying to equate Iran to North Korea. He has depicted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as representing nothing new and ordered a boycott of Rouhani’s speech at the United Nations before he heard a word of what the Iranian said.

In particular, Netanyahu is making demands that he knows would be deal-killers and suggesting that anyone who does not agree with those demands is endangering the security of Israel.

Perhaps if a fantasy agreement somehow were reached in which the government of Iran declares that it has been evil and mistaken all these years, agrees to demolish all facilities having anything to do with its nuclear program, invites teams from the Israeli Defense Forces into Iran to perform the demolition, and has President Rouhani agreeing to use his Twitter account not only to convey Rosh Hashanah greetings but also to recite lyrics from Hatikvah, then Netanyahu would announce his support for the agreement.

To understand Netanyahu’s posture one needs to realize that it is not only, or maybe even primarily, about a possible Iranian nuclear weapon. It is partly a matter of heading off any rapprochement between Iran and the United States, which would weaken the Israeli claim to being America’s sole reliable and important partner in the Middle East.

It is partly a matter of sustaining the Iranian nuclear issue as the regularly invoked “real problem” in the region that serves to divert attention from matters the Israeli government would rather not talk about or be the subject of international scrutiny. And it is partly a matter of Netanyahu riding a topic he has made a signature issue of his own in Israeli domestic politics and a basis for his claim to tough-guy leadership.

It is pointless to talk about how an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 could be fashioned to win Netanyahu’s acceptance, because such acceptance will not be forthcoming. Anyone interested in the peaceful resolution of differences with Iran needs instead to view Netanyahu, and the Israeli Right of which he is a part, and those in the United States who unthinkingly and automatically follow his lead, as irredeemable spoilers and to think about how their efforts at spoiling can be countered.

One way to counter them is to talk directly to Netanyahu’s bosses: the Israeli people. Ordinary Israelis, most of whom have not performed strategic analysis about what an Iranian nuclear weapon would or would not mean and instead approach the subject on a more emotional level, have genuine and understandable concerns about such a weapon if one were to materialize. They would have understandable concerns even without their leadership incessantly stoking fears about the subject.

The Israeli people need to be spoken to about what is the best way to achieve their objective of avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapon. They need to have explained to them why a negotiated agreement with Iran is that way, and why their prime minister’s way is not.

This will not cause the prime minister to end his efforts at spoiling, but it might energize other voices in Israel and help to make the spoiler-in-chief’s efforts less credible, reduce any Israeli backing for Netanyahu taking the ultimate spoiling step of launching his own military attack on Iran, and lead those in the United States who really care about Israeli security to think again about falling in line behind Netanyahu.

This is certainly not the only important issue on which Netanyahu’s government is acting contrary to the interests of Israel and its citizens. It would be great to hear more plain speaking by American leaders on those other issues, and on how Israelis are not being well-served by their own leaders. Unfortunately we have not heard much of that, but the Iranian nuclear issue is as good a one as any on which to start. Ideally Israelis would hear such a message from the very top of American leadership.

The Israeli government has complained about a paucity of trips to Israel by President Obama. So it could hardly stand in the way of a trip even if it knew it was for this purpose. Netanyahu’s government also could hardly deny him the privilege of addressing the Knesset for this purpose.

The government let it be known it was unhappy Obama did not address the Knesset on his last trip to Israel. And of course Netanyahu has been given the privilege of performing before the U.S. Congress, with members repeatedly jumping up and down out of their seats as if they had ants in their pants.

More calculation would have to be devoted to the timing of delivering such a message, relative to where negotiations with the Iranians stood. But were such a public message to be delivered, it ought to contain passages similar to these:

My friends, the people of Israel–

You need make no apologies for having strong concerns about the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Anyone who knows anything about the history of the Jewish people and what has been inflicted upon them in the past, or who has listened to outrageous and hateful rhetoric about Israel from some past Iranian leaders, can appreciate those concerns. The United States not only appreciates them; it shares them.

Even the closest of allies have differences, sometimes over goals, sometimes over the best ways to achieve those goals. The governments of the United States and Israel have their differences. But there is no difference over a commitment to the security of the State of Israel. And there is no difference over the objective of avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapon. On these matters, there is no daylight between us.

The commitment of the United States to the objective of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon is demonstrated by the extraordinary measures it has taken, by itself and as a leader of international coalitions, toward that end. Those measures have included in particular one of the most comprehensive sets of sanctions ever imposed on a state, sometimes at economic and other cost to the United States.

So we agree on the goal. All that remains for us, Israelis and Americans, to talk about is the best way to achieve that goal. All those sanctions I just mentioned begin to point to that way. For if the sanctions are not to be just a spiteful way of inflicting pain on a country we may not like, but instead are really going to be put in the service of our shared goal, then they have to be used as leverage.

That means using them to obtain an agreement that gives the Iranians the sanctions relief they seek in order for us to gain what we seek: arrangements that will assure us that Iran’s nuclear activities will not be used for any military purpose.

A negotiated agreement is the only way we can obtain such assurance. Whatever you or we may think about Iran, it is a sovereign state that neither one of us can control. We will get what we want from the Iranians only as part of an agreement in which they get much of what they want. The shape of such an agreement has been apparent for sometime, even though distrust and politics on each side have prevented us from getting there until now.

There is simply no other way to achieve our shared goal. Other paths not only would not achieve it but would entail major other costs and risks as well, to Israel as well as to the United States. Threats and pressure alone will not do the job. Iran is a proud state, as is Israel and as is the United States. Just as neither you nor we would give in to demands some other state might make of us under threats and pressure, we should not engage in wishful thinking that Iran would do so.

The use of military force would not do the job. It would not erase technical know-how. Worse, it would almost certainly lead the Iranian regime to take a decision which, according to the Israeli and U.S. intelligence services, it has not taken, which is to build a nuclear weapon.

Rather than achieving our goal, the goal would be thrown beyond our grasp. Iran under those circumstances also probably would renounce its international obligations regarding nuclear activities and would end all international inspection arrangements on its territory. This would be the opposite of the enhanced inspection measures which, under a negotiated agreement, would provide our most direct assurance that Iran’s nuclear activities were being limited to peaceful purposes.

Worst of all, the use of military force would condemn Israel to unending warfare with another major regional state. That is not something I would wish on you, our Israeli friends, any more than I would wish it on Americans.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

12 comments for “Why Netanyahu Spurns an Iran Deal

  1. Erica Stuart
    October 3, 2013 at 00:37

    Stuart on:”Why Netayahu spurn Iran Deal” I see two strong reason, one, the Zionist self evident drive to superior brute power. The other is traditonal, historical and the antecident to its present push for total power.
    What is self evident from words and action, Netanyahu, like the ancient Israel of David, wants the historical view of power power and domination. Netanyahu’ Israel will never feel safe until it controls all it considers potential enemies or just power competitors. There is no logical or historical reason for his hatred of Iran. Israel now has the weapons but it needs the land to be a great power. Iran is in the way. Historically, Jewish people have sought power via connetions and protection in high places and economic control. They have always managed to do so far and wide, in a way, this new trust for military control is Zionist, a different racial value and view of superiority from the Hebrew knowledge and Machiavellian means, to the brute force of warriour races adopted by Zionism.

  2. borat
    September 27, 2013 at 09:01

    It’s interesting how Rouhani has backed away from acknowledging the Holocaust buy stating that some groups of Jews were killed along with others. While that is true, there was a policy by the nazis whose goal was specifically to eliminate all Jews period. I certainly don’t blame Prime Minister Netanyahu for being very skeptical. Iran is using a sugar coated PR strategy concealing its previous puppet president’s goal of eliminating the Jewish State. The record of terrorism, collusion with Assad, and the development of nuclear weapons by a medieval theocratic state as Iran is, threatens not only Israel, but other Arab states as well.

    • rosemerry
      September 27, 2013 at 14:28

      the boring rat as at it again. Zionist lies cut no ice with readers here.

  3. Farsad Ostadan
    September 27, 2013 at 05:57

    Israel.us.open your eyes.

  4. Shona Duncan
    September 26, 2013 at 23:48

    This man can not be taken seriously, any attempt by Arabs to pacify him are stifled and treated with contempt. He seems to me a man with an agenda. He’d be worth researching. He’s also illegally occupying vast area’s in Palestine, bulldozing neighborhoods, encroaching on his neighbors, I think he’s still investing in free land for anyone who becomes Israeli, the voice of imperialist ideals. He is dangerous and unforgivable, I would not negotiate with Netanyahu if my life depended on it.

  5. Don Bacon
    September 26, 2013 at 15:24

    With new Iranian leadership eager for détente, a negotiated settlement over its nuclear program is within reach.

    What makes you think that a negotiated settlement over Iran’s nuclear program is within reach?

    Obama at the UNGA: We insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions. [enrichment suspension]

    Iran will never halt or suspend enrichment.

    • rosemerry
      September 27, 2013 at 14:27

      No suggestion from obomber that Israel sign the NPT or that the USA conforms to its demands. Not to mention all the UN resolutions ignored by Israel and the vetoes used by the USA to “protect” israel.

  6. elmerfudzie
    September 26, 2013 at 01:45

    A dial tone opens in the oval office; Ring…ring…Obama’s calling Bibi, Aside: How’s about Benji folks, it sounds too much like Bebe (Spanish for baby). Obama begins the conversation.. Bibi, I want you to fly out to Liechtenstein and sit down with Adrian Hasler. But why Mr President?, he’s so, well you know, the German types and the last world war, you know politically speaking, you know, I’d feel very uncomfortable..Bibi, do it, and ask him how he does it. Does what? Bibi asked ponderingly, Obama: How it is that his country hasn’t been attacked and they have no army or nukes. Then I want you to fly out to the Vatican and ask the Pope the same questions. MR President, I protest!!. Listen Bibi, I’m writing all the rubber checks for Israel’s coffers, so listen up! Ask them why they haven’t been ransacked since Alaric -the Visigoth, paid an unwelcome d visit to Rome. I then want you to fly to Lesotho and speak with Mr Thabane and ask him the same questions, after all, his country is quite defenseless and he serves in a ceremonial function, much like you and I do.. Get back to me, when you’ve become a better historian and diplomat!! And dammit, stop ringing me up, your a pain in my ass or ear or whatever. Obama continues: Oh, and I almost forgot, I received a few very cynically written letters penned from the shaky hands of old Naval Intel veteran’s who have a particular aversion to your using the heroic name of Sullivan, on your resume’ All seven Sullivan brothers were lost aboard the USS Juneau during WWII. Why in heavens name didn’t you think twice about using Sullivan, peruse US recent history once in a while…slams the phone down on Bibi.

    • elmerfudzie
      September 26, 2013 at 12:01

      Pardon. …all five brothers were lost…

  7. F. G. Sanford
    September 26, 2013 at 01:13

    The best place to hide an atrocity is in the middle of a war. By the time the historians sort it out, the point is moot. The official ‘casus belli’ swirls in a sewer of casuistry dense enough to provide buoyancy. The turd, and not the truth, is what floats. But nobody says, “Phew, that sure stinks!”

    Double standards have become laughable. Official stories are howling whoppers. War on truth-tellers has become draconian, but shattering revelations still don’t raise an eyebrow. Endemic corruption has been written off as “too big to fail”, a transmogrification of the definition Mussolini gave to fascism. No scandal is sufficiently lurid to prompt public outrage…unless it involves fellatio in the executive office. The media fails to report. When they do, the public’s response is, “So what?” Only the marginalized, discredited or crazies in the fringe media attempt to tackle interpretive journalism. The genuine chroniclers among them have been painted with the same brush. But…can the crazies all be wrong?

    The tacit objectives cloaked in war-mongering are obvious: territorial expansion and extraction of resources. Territorial expansion will require an atrocity, which can only be disguised behind a war. Resource extraction requires a favorable regime, or one too weak to protest. Two birds with one stone? At home, our poorest citizens embrace politicians who have outsourced their jobs and given tax breaks to billionaires. Diane Feinstein wants to insure that only corporate journalists can report the news. Peter King wants more surveillance to counter those radicals. Meanwhile, twenty two veterans commit suicide every day. Please, can someone show me a boogeyman, a serial killer, a crazed lunatic or a terrorist who has racked up a body count like that? Are John McCain and Lindsey Graham concerned? If the truth mattered, wouldn’t there be recall and impeachment campaigns in every state?

    So, why not stop all the play-acting. We know they want a war. We know they gotta have it, and when it’s over, nobody will go to jail…well, maybe a few reporters. We’ve entered the “septic cistern phase” of American Corporatocracy: turds float to the top. America has gotten used to the smell, and by God, we’re proud of it! So, let’s quit screwing around. Get Bibi on the phone and tell him to scramble those jets! Admit it. If the New York Times ran a story claiming that happened, nobody would object. If Weekly World News ran the same story, it would immediately be a “conspiracy theory”.

  8. MadBeck
    September 25, 2013 at 23:35

    We, the American people, stopped our government from plunging into still another middle-east war at the behest of the Israelis. AIPAC was unhappy. Awww, too bad.
    Now, could it be, that the United States is finally going to start talking to the Iranians? Gosh, just like grown-ups! Without the permission of our puppet-masters in Israel?
    Almost too much to hope for.

  9. Hillary
    September 25, 2013 at 20:52

    “would condemn Israel to unending warfare”
    Perhaps an never ending state of war is just what Israel needs.
    The constant fear that Israel , with the world’s 4th strongest military might be “wiped off the map” by any of its rag-tad neighbors has been most useful in raising billions of dollars over the years.

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