My Colleague, the Ayatollah: The Speech You Won't Hear From Netanyahu

'Iran has a government we can do business with,' the prime minister should, but won't, say in his address to Congress.

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the AIPAC congress on Monday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the AIPAC congress on Monday.Credit: AP
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

Mister Speaker, members of the House and Senate, I want to use the platform you’ve given me to diverge from my talking points and electioneering and tell you about the real relationship between the State of Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran. You’re surely familiar with the public rhetoric: They call us the little Satan, we call them the new Nazis. But these are just political slogans. We’re enemies, but in the tradition of our ancient faiths, each side understands and respects the other’s interests.

I’ll give you a few examples, starting with the economic realm. Forty-seven years ago, the Israeli government signed an agreement with Tehran to set up a pipeline (the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co.) that would bring Iranian oil to Israel and to Iran’s overseas customers. The Islamic revolution severed this relationship and Israel was left owing a lot of money to Iran’s national oil company.

And what did Iran do? Contrary to the picture I usually paint, in which they are messianic, aggressive lunatics who solve problems by extreme violence, they acted like any reasonable creditor who’s having trouble collecting a debt. They went to arbitration, as per our agreement. And when we created legal obstacles, they appealed to European courts. Both governments kept the proceedings secret and refrained from using them for propaganda purposes against the other.

We, too, acted courteously and fairly. Israeli law enables my government to confiscate Iran’s share in the partnership, because it’s an enemy state. But we’ve preserved EAPC’s legal structure and are hoping for the day when we can reopen the door to dialogue and business with Iran.

Now I’ll move to the nuclear issue. Since 1966, Israel has enjoyed a nuclear monopoly, which was meant to compensate for its inferiority in land, population and resources. Since 1969, the U.S. government has accepted our “nuclear ambiguity,” and I want to thank President Obama for honoring our understandings with his predecessors on this issue and enabling Israel to maintain its deterrence. Thank you, Barack. Without you, we’d be exposed to international pressure to close Dimona and destroy its output.

Iran’s nuclear program seeks to create a nuclear duopoly in the Mideast that would reduce Israel’s power. This is why we’re fighting it, openly and secretly, and trying to keep it from producing an atomic bomb for as long as possible. We believe that, thanks to our activity, it will be many more years before Iran deploys operable nuclear weapons.

Many in my country, recalling the past achievements of the Israel Defense Forces, had hoped I would send our air force to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. Talk of an attack bolstered our diplomatic effort but, as former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said this week, it was never translated into an operational order. Under cover of the talk about airstrikes, we invested our main effort in bolstering our naval deterrent. We built a fleet of submarines, the very existence of which makes it clear to every enemy that, should Israel be mortally wounded by a nuclear attack, it could still destroy the country that attacked it. And thanks to Chancellor Merkel, whose government provided us with this capability. Thanks, Angela.

Iran recognized our nuclear superiority and circumvented it from below by deploying conventional missiles in Lebanon that can hit any place in Israel and wreak massive destruction on our cities, towns and airports. But, despite my claims that Iran’s leaders are messianic lunatics, Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal remains in its warehouses; it was used against us only when my predecessor, Ehud Olmert, irresponsibly launched an all-out aerial attack in response to Hezbollah’s abduction of the bodies of two soldiers.

It must be admitted that his response was irrational, and that since my return to power six years ago, quiet in the north has been scrupulously maintained, even though your media claims Israel has bombed Hezbollah arms convoys and even a patrol accompanied by an Iranian general. In all these cases, the response by Hezbollah and Iran demonstrated self-control and cautious risk-benefit calculations, not madness. My colleague Ali Khamenei might believe in and pray for the coming of the Messiah, but he bases his policy on earthly realities.

Your government is nearing a historic agreement with Iran that might herald détente. I don’t know whether you’ll succeed or whether Khamenei will cling to his suspicions and prevent his country’s opening to the West. But the examples I’ve given show that Iran’s leader is a level-headed statesman with whom it’s possible to do business.

It’s worked for us: Under the cover of our well-publicized dispute, Iran and Israel have advanced their own interests without getting entangled in violent conflict. The Iranians preserved their regime, and we preserved our control of the territories. You’ll agree that this is nothing to sneer at when the public dialogue between Jerusalem and Tehran consists solely of threats and condemnations.

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