Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, cannot accept any agreement that Iran has agreed to. Conversely, the only nuclear accord that Israel can live with is one that Tehran can’t.
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Actually, nothing short of complete and utter dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure can convince Israel that the mullahs in Tehran have changed their ways. That Iran has given up its quest for nuclear weapons. That Tehran is no longer pursuing a bomb with which to achieve regional hegemony and to threaten Israel with extinction.
In his book “A Place Among The Nations,” Netanyahu wrote about the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. In this very context, he noted that a “deep cultural and psychological distortion” of Islamic fundamentalism has turned it into a “cancerous tumor that threatens modern civilization”. You don’t treat cancer by reasoning with it. You need to stop it in its tracks, and then eradicate it altogether.
In Netanyahu’s eyes, Iran’s fanatic regime is no more capable of reversing its raison d’etre than the National Socialists were in Germany or the Bolshevik communists in the Soviet Union. The only realistic way of neutralizing the clear and present danger presented by Iran is by using the methods that worked so well against similar evil tyrannies in the past: subjugation or regime change or both. The Allies vanquished the Nazis by using brute military force, while the United States caused the collapse of the Soviet Union by bringing its overwhelming economic and technological superiority to bear.
It follows, therefore, that any accommodation with the ayatollahs is, by definition, weak-kneed appeasement, a clear indication of Western naiveté, an act of capitulation to rival Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 surrender to Adolf Hitler.
Declarations by Iranian President Hassan Rohani that Iran is not seeking a nuclear bomb are as worthless as Hitler’s signature on Chamberlain’s infamous “piece of paper” in which the two leaders proclaimed “their desire never to go to war with one another again.” And under the surface of U.S. pledges to safeguard Israel’s security one can hear distant echoes of Chamberlain’s blunt words to the British Parliament: “However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account.”
Indeed, Netanyahu’s harsh reaction to reports of the impending agreement in Geneva were but an unrehearsed, gut-instinct rendition of a speech from which he is sure to quote if such a deal is ultimately concluded: “We have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road,” as Winston Churchill told the House of Commons a few days after the Munich Agreement was signed. And as he told Chamberlain: “You were given the choice between dishonor and war. You chose dishonor, but you will have war.”
The analogy may seem contrived, lopsided or farfetched to many and perhaps even most outside observers, but for Netanyahu, indeed for many Israelis, the concept of “Western Betrayal” has a deep and enduring resonance that is pertinent and prominent to this very day. In fact, its impact has probably increased exponentially in recent decades, as the Holocaust has claimed an ever-growing presence in Israel’s educational system, political discourse and national psyche.
The Munich precedent has consistently featured as a staple of Netanyahu’s core beliefs. In “A Place Among the Nations”, written in 1995, Netanyahu devotes significant space to the Hitler-Chamberlain analogy, comparing Israel to pre-War Czechoslovakia, Judea and Samaria to the German-speaking Sudetenland, a generic Arab monolith to Nazi Germany, and the Palestinian claims of human rights abuses and demand for self-determination to the irredentist provocations of the Sudeten Nazis led by Konrad Henlein.
“It is small wonder that like in other anti-Israeli schemes, the Arabs are implementing important chapters from the propaganda strategy of the Nazis,” Netanyahu wrote. “But what is surprising and disappointing is that fact that elitist circles in the West were quick to ‘swallow’ this transparent fraud.”
Unlike Menachem Begin, Netanyahu has made only rare public comparisons between Yasser Arafat and Hitler, but he was far less restrained when it came to the Iranian regime and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a 2006 Knesset speech, Netanyahu said that the Iranian president was even worse than the Nazi Fuehrer. "Hitler went out on a world campaign first, and then tried to get nuclear weapons. Iran is trying to get nuclear arms first. Therefore, from that perspective, it is much more dangerous," he said.
And if Iran is Nazi Germany, and its nuclear plans are but an updated version of the Final Solution, then it follows that U.S. Jews are now being given a chance to atone for their self-inflicted silence during the Holocaust. This was the undisguised gist of Netanyahu’s audacious “I will not be silenced” statement this week at the Jewish General Assembly in which he called on American Jews to fight the proposed deal in Geneva: “When the Jewish people were silent on matters relating to our survival, you know what happened. This is different,” he said.
That leaves U.S. President Barack Obama with a choice of alternatively being cast as history’s ultimate Patsy Chamberlain or as America’s thirty-second president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But this is not your Jewish grandfather’s FDR who saved the American economy from collapse and the world from Fascist domination. This is the FDR who “abandoned the Jews,” who succumbed to the anti-Semites in his midst, whose public image has been slowly evolving in recent years from being a hero of the Jews to a misguided leader who was callous about their tragic fate.
These will be the popular Israeli terms of reference, no matter what is ultimately concluded in a nuclear accord with Iran. Even under much improved stipulations, Netanyahu’s scrutiny of such an agreement will be filtered through a 75-year-old prism and a direct line will be drawn from Geneva to Munich and back.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev