Why Bibi Can’t Take Yes for an Answer

Bibi Netanyahu UNGA

Benjamin Netanyahu has been dragged out of his comfort zone by the possibility of a U.S.-Iran rapprochement.  This was evident when the Israeli leader, in a very belligerent and stentorian speech at the UN General Assembly last week, likened Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

After listing off the reasons why Rouhani shouldn’t be trusted (Mahmoud Abbas could make a similar list about Netanyahu), Netanyahu laid down his ultimatum.  “I want there to be no confusion on this point,” he said.  “Israel will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.  If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.” Netanyahu urged the UN to keep the pressure on Iran, to retain sanctions and only to lift them when Iran’s nuclear program is dismantled.

But if Iran is willing to cut a deal that effectively provides a guarantee against a weaponization of its nuclear program, and that deal is acceptable to the president of the United States of America, why would Netanyahu not take yes for an answer?

According to Israeli political scientist, Daniel Levy, there are a few reasons why Netanyahu refuses to oppose any developments that would allow Iran to break free of its isolation, hence some of the bluster.

Levy says that the first reason lies in Netanyahu’s broader view of Israel’s place in the region: “The Israeli premier simply does not want an Islamic Republic of Iran that is a relatively independent and powerful actor. Israel has gotten used to a degree of regional hegemony and freedom of action — notably military action — that is almost unparalleled globally. Israelis are understandably reluctant to give up any of that.”

Second, Levy argues that “Israel’s leadership seeks to maintain the convenient reality of a neighboring region populated by only two types of regimes. The first type is regimes with a degree of dependence on the United States, which necessitates severe limitations on challenging Israel (including diplomatically). The second type is regimes that are considered beyond the pale by the United States and as many other global actors as possible, and therefore unable to do serious damage to Israeli interests.

Israel’s leadership would consider the emergence of a third type of regional actor — one that is not overly deferential to Washington but also is not boycotted, and that even boasts a degree of economic, political, and military weight — a deeply undesirable development.”

Third, Levy points out that “the current standoff is an extremely useful way of distracting attention from the Palestinian issue, and a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran would likely shine more of a spotlight on Israel’s own nuclear weapons capacity.”

Levy writes that the final and key point to understand Netanyahu’s policy is this: “While Obama has put aside changing the nature of the Islamic Republic’s political system, Israel’s leader is all about a commitment to regime change — or failing that, regime isolation — in Tehran. And he will pursue that goal even at the expense of a workable deal on the nuclear file.”

Because of these reasons Netanyahu will likely dedicate himself to derailing any prospect for a diplomatic breakthrough. And you can be rest assured that the Israel Lobby in Washington will do everything that they can to support him in that endeavour.


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