By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s exhortations to the U.S. Congress to forget about a “bad deal” with Iran avoids one problem. Absent a deal, who believes Iran will scale down its nuclear program? Is Iran likely to give up on the whole idea just because the U.S. heeds the warnings of the leader of a country that Iran periodically vows to annihilate?
Then again, if the U.S. comes through with a deal that Iran will view as merely a stopgap arrangement for biding time, what good will that accomplish? No one should ignore Netanyahu’s warning even if he made it to a politically biased audience that’s ready to criticize Obama for just about anything.
There may, however, be another way at looking at the standoff.
Netanyahu’s view of ”Persia,” Iran’s historical name, as a natural enemy of Israel and the Jewish people does not mean the hostility has to go on forever — or that Iran is about to live up to its threats. Like North Korean rhetoric, the polemics from Iran need not inspire terror.
Iran is the most powerful country in the Middle East. Its people are sophisticated and industrious. It should be possible, whatever Netanyahu may say, to draw Iran into economic and commercial relationships with the U.S., Europe and Asia that will show how much more the Iranians have to gain from doing business rather than making or threatening war.
In fact, Iran’s willingness to go on talking suggests the eagerness of Iranian leaders to follow that path.
Yes, Netanyahu was doubtless correct in stating that the Iranians need a deal more than the Americans and advising that one way to draw them into an agreement would be to walk out on the talks — a familiar haggling tactic whenever you’re shopping in the Middle East.
That’s the optimistic view. Netanyahu had only to compare Iran to North Korea to demonstrate the dark side of the argument.
Who can believe that “inspections” will stop anything?
The North Koreans had no trouble kicking out the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency after revelations of the North’s secret program to build warheads with highly enriched uranium. Sure, they’d made a show of shutting down their plutonium reactor, but so what? And who believes “talks” with North Korea will stop it from building ever more nuclear devices while developing the means to fire them long distances?
The North Korean example offers what may be the strongest reason for not falling for a deal with Iran that will only result, years from now if not sooner, in disappointment, disillusionment and perhaps even war.
North Korea’s threats may seem repetitious to the point of boredom, but we’ve been bamboozled a few times too often to believe that North Korea will suddenly reverse course.
Iran, however, is not North Korea. It’s far larger, much more advanced economically, and a lot more open than North Korea even though we can be sure the relative freedom enjoyed there is highly limited. Iran also plays a pivotal role in the Middle East, in opposing the rise of ISIL while supporting the U.S.-backed Iraqi regime.
The dynamics of the Middle East power game are simply not comparable to the struggle for power and influence in Northeast Asia.
Probably the scariest aspect of Netanyahu’s warning against any deal with Iran is that he has advocated wiping out Iran’s nuclear projects — bombing them into oblivion as Israeli planes knocked out a nuclear facility that the North Koreans were busy building in Syria .
Netanyahu in Washington did not suggest military action against Iran. He was at least sensitive enough not to appear as too much of a war monger. An all-out Middle Eastern war, though, would be a real possibility if Israel spurs the U.S. into air strikes against Iran. The war could spread beyond the Middle East if Russia and China, eager to appear on the side of Iran, entered the conflict as advisers and suppliers of weapons, maybe even troops.
The attacks that Netanyahu has suggested would make the current fighting in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere look like mere brush fires. The U.S. would again have to send hundreds of thousands of troops to the region. Israel might rejoice in this show of hostility toward Iran, but such a war would have little support elsewhere in the world — including in the U.S.
Given this reality, the best option is to reverse the course of history, to sublimate the enmity of the Persians going back thousands of years. What would happen if Israel were to choose a forward-looking policy that welcomed the prospect of commercial and cultural ties with its ancient enemy?
No doubt, considering Iran’s support of enemies on Israel’s borders, Hizbullah and Hamas, that notion seems incredibly naive.
Maybe so, but an agreement between the U.S. and Iran would open up new vistas that are exciting to contemplate regardless of the pressures exerted by Netanyahu. Why not make a deal and see how it plays out?
Columnist Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.