In a not so-subtle jab at the United States, Bibi Netanyahu stridently announced today that “those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red line before Israel.”
Mr. Netanyahu made the claim following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public commitment to continuing sanctions and negotiations without setting a deadline.
Now, let’s unpack this. First, Mr. Netanyahu says he believes that were Iran to build a nuclear weapon–something that most agree is not possible within the next 12 months–it would pose an existential threat to Israel and thus the situation requirer a preventive military response. Netanyahu insists no other entity–not Israel’s closest allies, not the Israeli and US national security establishments, not the Israeli people, nor international law–can place restrictions on his freedom to preventively deal with this threat.
But there’s a serious bit of Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, in Mr. Netanyahu’s lashing out at the US. The Obama administration has never placed red lines in front of Israel and has indeed placed redlines in front of Iran. Contrary to Netanyahu’s claim, when asked, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that “we respect their sovereignty and their ability to make decisions with their own security.”
US officials have, however, made statements discouraging Israeli military action, characterized by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dempsey’s comment that he “doesn’t want to be complicit” if Israel chooses unilateral military action against Iran. But that is because Israel is not operating in a vacuum–Netanyahu’s decisions regarding Iran would have significant impact on US security, not to mention detrimental impacts on Israel’s security.
Without going into them in significant detail, several Israeli officials believe that military action would push Iran towards nuclear weapons. Additionally, Pentagon simulations predict that the US would be forced into a conflict with Iran very quickly following an Israeli strike.
For an argument that security issues such as these justify consideration by a close ally, we need to go no further than Mr. Netanyahu himself. In 2002, while making a case to the House Committee on Government Reform for the US invasion of Iraq, he stated:
A central component of any strike on Iraq must be to ensure that the Israeli Government, if it so chooses, has the means to vaccinate every citizen of Israel before action is initiated. And I want to stress that ensuring this is not merely the responsibility of the Government of Israel but also the responsibility of the Government of the United States.
Let me repeat this: The Government of Israel and the Government of the United States must jointly ensure that the people of Israel have all the available means of civil defense before action begins.
At the time, he worried that if Saddam Hussein’s regime fell, he would attack Israel with chemical and biological weapons as a final act of vengeance. The argument is a strange mirror for the present situation. Again, we have a country making plans that create security concerns for its allies. Then, Mr. Netanyahu found it acceptable to ask, and then repeat, these concerns. Now, he finds that the US “has no moral right.”
Who is it that lacks moral authority again?