Editorial |

Netanyahu’s Reckless Gamble

Israel's PM, directly or through organizations and people who follow him, will push U.S. senators to increase the pressure on Tehran, and in doing so endanger the nuclear agreement

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington, March 3, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington, March 3, 2015. Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP

As opposed to the view of most world leaders and their intelligence services, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently maintained that the nuclear agreement with Iran has no advantages, only shortcomings. He sacrificed his relations with former U.S. President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and a large part of American Jewry in return for the opportunity to express his opinion in front of Congress in March 2015, and he has stuck to this path ever since.

Israel may take pride in the bloc of Sunni nations, headed by Saudi Arabia, that supports Netanyahu’s battle, but their leaders are keeping a discrete silence. Facing determined opposition from China, Russia, the European Union and the rest of the world, Netanyahu stood as the only leader opposing the agreement, and has pressed U.S. President Donald Trump to retreat from it by demanding modifications that the Iranians will never agree to.

Last month Netanyahu once again took his place on the podium at the United Nations, dispensed embellished praise on Trump and said “fix it or nix it” about the nuclear agreement. At the beginning of next week Trump is expected to initiate a diplomatic crisis over the agreement by declining to provide the periodic certification to Congress that Tehran is keeping its obligations under the agreement. Even the most talented spokesmen in the White House and Prime Minister’s Office will find it difficult to deny the connection between the two events.

Trump’s advisers have already hinted that he may make do with just the headlines and noise his words create, but not Netanyahu. The nuclear agreement will be rescinded only if the Senate uses the 60 days allotted to it after the president’s announcement to renew the sanctions against Iran that were suspended as part of the nuclear agreement.

Netanyahu, directly or through organizations and people who follow him, will push the senators to increase the pressure on Tehran, and in doing so endanger the agreement. In the best case Netanyahu could suffer a similar defeat to that inflicted by Obama in 2015, or in the worst case he could be painted as the person who pushed the United States into a diplomatic conflict that could deteriorate into a military confrontation.

This is a reckless gamble even if we accept Netanyahu’s reservations about the agreement, and much more so if we think the cancellation of the agreement will be bad for Israel.

Israel cannot allow itself such crude and dogged action over such a controversial matter, which could ignite a conflagration and even lead to American casualties. Netanyahu’s promises that such a confrontation serves American interests will remind many of his appearance in Congress in 2002, when he described the advanced nuclear industry in Iraq that never existed, called to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s regime and promising that this would bring salvation and relief to the Middle East. At the time he was only a private citizen and his words left only a personal stain. Now he is prime minister and all of Israel could pay the price for his excessive self-confidence.

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