Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he is going into his meeting with Joe Biden ready to show him a plan for halting Iran’s nuclear program. However, as a number of events including the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan have shown, in the absence of a real military option, the leaders will likely have to work on a plan for how to live with a nuclear Iran.
In October 1994, President Bill Clinton announced that he had reached an agreement with North Korea to make it give up its nuclear program. The euphoria continued in the following years, and in 2000 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il with a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. The rest is history.
LISTEN: Bennett meets Biden. This could be Israel’s worst-case scenario
Yes, there were reasons. There was a partisan Republican Congress that refused to advance the gestures that were part of the agreement, but bottom line, this was a total failure. I personally became aware of this failure when I was a political adviser at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 2002. The National Security Council official responsible for North Korea told me that the United States’ working assumption was that North Korea had several nuclear bombs.
I also remember Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s historic meeting with his Pakistani counterpart in 2005. As the foreign minister’s chief of staff, I was present at the meeting on the banks of the Bosphorus where Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri told us that Pakistan acquired a nuclear bomb after President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said, “Let the people eat grass, but Pakistan will get an atomic bomb.”
So history shows us that it might be possible to delay the Iranians, but not stop them. According to American intelligence reports, Iran only fully halted its efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb once – in 2003, when U.S. forces entered Iraq. The Iranians feared they would be next in line and quickly acted accordingly – i.e., only when they really felt the sword on their neck did they understand that they should stop.
Bennett is coming to a country that has no appetite for conflict, or even for a military threat. With the exit from Afghanistan, Biden brought what his presidential predecessors began to an ignominious conclusion. It's clearly what the public wants, though. Most Americans are adamantly opposed to shedding blood, money and tears anywhere that is not the United States.
The current U.S. administration has zero desire to get into another adventure. Any military threat it makes, especially in light of the departure from Afghanistan, will not be seen as credible. The Americans are keen to reach an agreement with the Iranians, but the Iranians are a bit less keen because they know that there is no big stick in store and that at most America might employ economic sanctions. Nothing more.
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Bennett’s mission is almost impossible. He has to make the American president understand that the Iranian rulers are ready to let their people “eat grass,” that the survival of the Iranian terror regime, like that of North Korea, is based on nuclear armament, and that the agreement with the Americans will serve as another means of attaining the cherished goal: preserving the ayatollahs’ rule.
Bennett has to convince Biden that the American military option is preferable to the Israeli one. To preserve the current order, the gun has to be placed on the table, even if it will be fired only in the third act.
Yaki Dayan is a former Israeli general consul in Los Angeles and the former political chief of staff for foreign ministers Silvan Shalom and Tzipi Livni.