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Netanyahu Presents Congress With a Warped View of the Mideast

The Israeli prime minister forgets that Iran is on the Americans' side on several fronts, and he doesn't chastise other countries for transgressions similar to the Iranians'.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2015.Credit: Bloomberg
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed Iran in the most alarmist way Tuesday. He depicted it as the essence of evil with which the United States, suffering from serious naveté, aims to sign an accord.

According to Netanyahu, Iran, like the Islamic State, seeks to impose its Islamic hegemony across the entire world. It hangs gay people, it rules in four Arab capitals, and it will spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Iran is a country of fanatics, far removed from democracy and Western values, Netanyhu explained. It calls for Israel's annihilation.

These are serious allegations that make one wonder why Iran isn’t destroyed even if it doesn't obtain nuclear weapons. But Netanyahu’s mosaic is missing several important elements.

For example, Iran supported the United States in its war against Al-Qaida in Afghanistan; it even offered logistic support for whenever U.S. pilots or soldiers needed it. It's an active partner in the war against ISIS; Washington welcomed this assistance. Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen, but these are the same Houthis waging battling Al-Qaida in Yemen, thus collaborating with U.S. policies.

Iran dictates Syria’s policies but so does Russia. Would Netanyahu declare Russia a terror-supporting state?

Iran’s influence on Iraq is no secret. Iran is Iraq’s biggest trading partner but it's also allied with the Kurds, who are considered the good guys in Iraq.

It’s true some analysts say an Iranian nuclear capability would spark a regional nuclear arms race, but so far no Arab state has declared that it would develop or buy a nuclear bomb. Arab concerns about Iran focus more on its regional influence than on its nuclear capabilities.

If one speaks of an "Islamic” bomb," it already exists in Pakistan. With Pakistan serving as a U.S. ally fighting the Taliban, no one insists that Pakistan ditch its nuclear weapons.

Iran is a “country of ayatollahs,” and Netanyahu is particularly enraged by the execution of gay people there. But he can hear anti-gay sentiments from his erstwhile partners in Habayit Hayehudi, too.

So why pick on Iran? Saudi Arabia chops off the hands and feet of thieves, and its laws permit the execution of homosexuals too, but it’s considered "pro-Western.” No one, not even Netanyahu, has chided the Saudis for being further from democracy than Iran, where women can drive and elections are held for parliament and the presidency.

This is the Saudi Arabia that pours massive funds into Egypt on the one hand, but from which came most of the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. It’s true Saudi Arabia has never called for the annihilation of Israel, but Iran has also never said it intends to destroy Israel — it relates to Israel as an entity that should not exist.

The difference is huge. Many people in the Middle East believe that Israel shouldn’t exist, but only very few still believe that the Arab states should annihilate it. To explain the difference, we could look at the way Israel relates to a Palestinian state. Israel thinks one should not come into existence, but it wouldn't annihilate it if it did.

The biggest falsehood in Netanyahu’s speech came near the end when he tried to persuade the United States not to be alarmed if Iran abandons the talks. “They’ll be back,” he promised, “because they need the deal a lot more than you do."

He may be right but he may be wrong. In 2003 Iran froze its nuclear program while waiting for the lifting of some or all of the sanctions imposed on it. The United States under President George W. Bush didn't fulfill its part of the deal and the nuclear program was resumed in full force.

So far Iran has implemented its obligations under the interim agreement; it is keeping to target dates and showing commitment to the talks. It has consented to invasive monitoring, well beyond what is required by the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Netanyahu, who accused Iran of deceiving the entire world, apparently forgot that unlike Iran, his country, just like India and Pakistan, isn't a signatory to that treaty.

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