Netanyahu recycled Cold War, anti-communist rhetoric to suit his own desired end of regional dominance
Benjamin Netanyahu spoke for a third time before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. He entered the chamber to a relentless chorus of applause which proceeded just long enough to register a “creepy” on the political subtext scale.
The Israeli Prime Minister wasted no time in commencing a rhetorical assault on the government in Tehran, urging US lawmakers to persist in their unending struggle against the forces of radical Islam. Adding to this, Netanyahu called for Iran to be seen as something akin to a terrorist state, thereby sapping it of any legitimacy or bargaining power on the world political stage. The motivations behind this speech could not help but seep out, however, as it is clear that both Israel and Iran are playing the exact same game.
I. The Speech
Before Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for continued diplomatic and military cooperation between the United States and Israel. In addition Netanyahu stressed the need to keep US-Israeli relations “above politics,” continuing to then state his affirmed belief that “You [the US congress] stand with Israel!” The prime minister also made the assertion that both the United States and Israel share common notions of the “destiny of promised lands,” and “cherished freedom.”
Bibi showed great gratitude for the support of congress that Israel has continually been a beneficiary of over the decades. He specifically noted the “generous military assistance” which has come from the United States, “[…] including Iron Dome,” he said, opting to remark with a semblance of humor, “because this capitol dome helped build our Iron Dome!”
It is no secret that President Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu do not see eye to eye on most things. In addition it has become quite clear that the two actually highly dislike each other and being in each other’s presence. In spite of this the Israeli prime minister chose to give at least some credit where credit was due “In each of these moments [of crisis] I called the president and he was there […] I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support.”
Immediately after the customary placating remarks, however, Netanyahu jumped directly into his polemic, identifying Iran as an outright existential threat to the state of Israel, saying “we are an ancient people…in our nearly 4000 years of history, many have tried, repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people.” When referencing Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Netanyahu stated bluntly that “He tweets that Israel must be annihilated.”
The prime minister also expressed concerns about Iranian interest in ideological propagation, arguing that “in 1979 they were hijacked by religious zealots,” and that the ultimate fulfillment of this zealotry will be to, “Export the revolution throughout the world.”
Further concerns were raised over Iranian influence over the Strait of Hormuz, a vital conduit for oil tankers and other cargo. Hormuz represents a geographical chokepoint which Iran is located very near to. It follows from even base geopolitical reasoning that some disruption could occur at the hands of the Iranians. The prime minister also cited a recent incident during which the Iranian navy actually sunk a replica US aircraft carrier (with corresponding deck numbers) as part of ongoing military drills.
Netanyahu accused the Iranian regime of being in charge of a “global terror network,” predicting that “if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow[…] we must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation, and terror.”
Bibi further made the point that the battle between Iran and ISIS does not turn Iran into a friend of America by any means, arguing that “both want to impose a militant Islamic empire […] they just disagree [on] who will be the ruler of that empire.”
He also characterized the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons as an all-but-assured end for the Jewish state and all civilized humanity. Netanyahu appeared unconvinced by the prospect of a new nuclear deal, saying that Iran “not only defies inspectors, it plays a game of ‘hide and cheat’ with them” and accusing the military of “operating secret nuclear facilities…facilities that no one even knew existed.” Furthermore the prime minister was adamant that the deal was, in itself, irrelevant, making the point that “Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal.”
Many of the stipulations factored into the current aggreement automatically expire in a decade. Netanyahu voiced concerns over this as well, pandering to well-worn rhetorical soft-spots, saying that a decade is a “blink of an eye in the life of a nation […] a blink of an eye in the life of our children.”
Israeli opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, delivered a harsh response as well on Tuesday, stating that “There is no doubt the prime minister knows how to speak well, but the truth is that the speech, as impressive as it was, did not prevent a nuclear Iran and won’t impact a deal that is being drafted – not on its content, nor on its timetable.”
Herzog’s criticism continued “The painful truth is that after all the applause, Netanyahu is alone and Israel is isolated, and the negotiations will continue without Israel’s input. The speech sabotaged Israel’s relations with the US. It will not change the view of the administration, only deepen the rift with our strategic ally.”
In a statement made shortly after the conclusion of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, US President Barack Obama commented simply that the arguments represented “nothing new,” continuing that, “[…] on the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would make it far more dangerous and would give it scope for even greater action in the region, the prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives,”
Apparently receiving Netanyahu’s statements in a similar manner, another senior administration official commented that they contained “literally not one new idea; not one single concrete alternative; all rhetoric, no action.”
In Geneva, US Secretary of State John Kerry has been participating in nuclear talks for several days, negotiating the very deal which the Israeli Prime Minister so harshly criticized on Tuesday. On the subject of this latest round of nuclear negotiations, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that “We are moving and we are talking to be able to make progress […] There are issues and we want to address them. But there is a seriousness that we need to move forward. As we have said all along we need the necessary political will to understand that the only way to move forward is to negotiate.”
Notable conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh had much to say on the subject, making the claim that “Netanyahu is everything Obama is not,” and using the speech as yet another opportunity to renew his tiresome, dogmatic tirade against the American left, “Speeches, words, persuasion, will never work. Ask Neville Chamberlain. Ask anybody who has asked a tyrant to stop being a tyrant. But this highlights the difference. That is the Obama approach. Even though Obama only has two more years in office, he still believes that the power of his personality and his community organizer skills or whatever, that he can persuade Iran after they get the nuke not to use it.”
The specific reasons why evangelicals support Israel are often difficult to discern. Even more obscure are the reasons behind broad conservative support based on non-religious grounds. Certainly a large portion of this reasoning comes from the greater geopolitical picture at present. Israel, simply put, is much easier to maintain as a friend at arm’s length than otherwise. At the core of its policymaking, Israel is just as capable of cold, emotionless calculation as any other state entity. To that end, one can see that Israel has far more cause for conflict with Iran from purely economic and military grounds than from anything ideological.
Israel and Iran are certainly entered into competition with each other on ideological grounds. With respect to the conflict between ISIL and Iran, Netanyahu is partially correct. The fact that the United States and Iran share a common enemy in ISIL does by no means make the two entities “best buds for life.”
Where his thinking seems to derail, however, is in his equating the aims of ISIL and Iran. The two exist in fundamentally different states of diplomatic, military, and political being. ISIL has little legitimacy and little claim on the territories to which it has laid such claims. From the perspective of nearly the entire international community, this radical Sunni organization represents little more than another in a long line of organizational abomination-children birthed by the incestuous geopolitical system.
On the other hand, Iran is an established state with international recognition in the political and diplomatic arenas. It has a vested interest in keeping its citizens alive, fed, and at least minimally productive. Second, Iran has the added benefit of having a relatively homogenous (at least when compared with highly cosmopolitan countries like the US) population and culture. Third, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is far less terrifying than the specter of a newly-nuclear group like ISIL. Furthermore, it can easily be argued that nuclear-armed, often unstable, and predominantly Muslim Pakistan represents just as much of a threat to global peace and stability.
Netanyahu has essentially recycled Cold War, anti-communist rhetoric to suit his own desired end of regional geopolitical dominance. He portrays radical Islam as a virus which, once unleashed, will unceasingly consume all nations in its path. The reality is a tad less ludicrous.
Although Iran certainly does provide covert financial support to myriad radical Islamic organizations plotting all variety of nasty deeds around the world, it is important to consider the position of the Iranian state in the larger scheme of things. If one considers the example of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq before the Second Gulf War, it is plainly clear that a key reason as to why radical Islamist groups were not incredibly well-off within Iraqi borders was the utter dominance of the system controlled by his party.
Radical groups were not suppressed simply by virtue of their being radical, but instead as a result of their acting to challenge the authority and stability of the existing state paradigm. In other words, the reason why Al Qaeda suddenly appeared in Iraq after Saddam’s government was dismantled piece by piece lies in the disappearance of any real and constant challenge to their continued existence.
Benjamin Netanyahu, in all likelihood, recognizes the geopolitical realities of today perfectly well. His agenda, however, requires a manipulation of the international narrative which will suit his neoconservative ends of regional dominance. Inevitably it will be up to history to decide where the chips fall.