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Running Down Bibi

March 9, 2015

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by Republican Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of the US Congress. He is the only other world leader to have addressed a joint session of the US Congress thrice after Sir Winston Churchill. This high profile address to the joint session did not go down well with the Democrats and President Obama set it aside as ‘rhetorical’ and ‘nothing new with no solutions’. I must add here that the speech by the Israeli PM was as regards the Iranian nuclear threat and the proposed US-Iran nuclear deal where Tehran would pursue ‘clean’ nuclear energy for civilian purposes and would abstain from enriching uranium to weapon grade. The speech came close to the Israeli elections and was seen by many as a political grandstanding by the Israeli leader for political gains back home and amongst the Jewish community in North America (most have dual citizenship).

The critics of Bibi (short form for Benjamin) call him a war monger and a man who has been crying wolf for almost twenty years now. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat leader and former Speaker was aghast at Bibi’s ‘insensitivity’ that Americans were foolish enough to believe the Iranians blindly. There was a rally in Tel Aviv the other day – the ‘million hands’ rally where around 20,000 people gathered. The rally was organized by the vocal Left parties of Israel. Former Brigadier Generals and other retired officials of the Israel Defense Force and Mossad addressed the rally. Their grouse was that Bibi was hell bent on ruining relations with the United States and with Arab countries around the region. President Obama refused to meet PM Netanyahu or even chat with him on the phone and the White House spokesperson explained that as the visit was near Israeli elections it could be seen as interference in internal affairs of a friendly country.

It must be recalled that when the Iranian leadership managed to bring around the US to making a nuclear deal they were feted as heroes on their arrival in Tehran. It was a victory of sorts for the Iranians as a nation. Why was there such tumultuous welcome to the Iranian delegation if they did not see it as a ticket to the nuclear club? The Shiite clergy led by Ayatollah Khamaeini has also vowed publicly to ‘exterminate’ Israel and a nuclear Iran is a veritable threat to the region. Is Israel the only nation that is concerned? The answer is a most definitive ‘no’! The Sunnite nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Oman and others are equally concerned if not more.

The Saudi leadership has close ties with nuclear Pakistan. It is said that they funded Pakistan’s nuclear program. If Iran goes nuclear they will surely ask Pakistan to share the technology or just hand over a few nukes as deterrence. The other more interesting fact is that Lockheed Martin have sold two THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) anti-nuclear batteries to Oman and the UAE. These come at $2 billion. Saudis are also interested in these anti-nuclear missile shields. A third is being tested and will be deployed in Saudi Arabia shortly.

The question that begs to be answered is: If the White House was so sure of Teheran’s pious intentions when it comes to pursuing ‘peaceful civilian nuclear energy’ then why is it allowing sale of such advanced anti-nuke technologies as THAAD to countries of the region? It just does not add up. A nuclear Iran is a threat to the region and to world peace and this is an undeniable fact. Obama’s policy of engagement with Teheran on the issue of nuclear energy therefore does not make sense.

From the Israeli point of view, an Iranian nuclear shield to Hamas and Hezbollah could mean that IDF will not be able to operate against these radicals freely. If Hamas and Hezbollah cut loose the existence of Israel is in real danger. It is an ‘existential threat’ to Israel as Bibi has pointed out time and time again. Critics are running him down that he has been painting this doomsday scenario for the past twenty years now. The fact of the matter is that Iran is inching towards being a nuclear weapon state. And as the head of the Jewish nation of Israel it is his responsibility to ensure safety of his citizens which he reiterated in DC. Bibi is saying what others are saying too. Is there any Jewish leader in Israel or the US that supports a nuclear Iran? Absolutely not! Then why run down the Prime Minister for spelling out the truth?

The problem is not with what Bibi is saying. The problem is that American leadership sees Iran as a pit and the disastrous Carter policy and the resultant 1979 Iranian ‘revolution’ is still fresh in the minds of most Americans. They do not want to take on the Iranians head on. Obama is loath to take any direct action against the Iranians. He is therefore trying to use the IAEA and other agencies to ensure that Iranians do not pursue weapon grade uranium enrichment. Perhaps the American president also reckons that the Iranian question be stalled for the remaining couple of years of his term and let the incumbent president deal with the problem. It is the way US presidents have dealt with the burgeoning fiscal deficit of the US – kick the can down the road.

Remarkably, the Israeli leadership is also keeping its options open. They are factoring in a situation where nothing happens during the remaining time of the Obama presidency and wait it out till the next president comes. Hopefully for them there will be a Republican president the next time around – more amenable to Israeli concerns.

There is a pattern in how President Obama operates. The man tries to avoid a direct conflict. The situation in Ukraine is another example of how the American president has tried to avoid committing himself to a problem. It cost Ukraine Crimea.

The IDF and Israeli intelligence will have a task at hand to ensure Iran does not reach the threshold. It is a delicate situation in the Middle East.

The other question that begs to be answered is: Why does Tel Aviv look to the US for its security? The present dispensation at the White House has veritably said that Israel’s security is not their responsibility. Israel has said time and time again that it might carry out military operations unilaterally if the US shies away from doing what they ought to be doing. They have purchased a fleet of long range F-15 fighter jets and it can be expected that they are ready for a plethora of military scenarios. If the US is not concerned about Israel’s security and does not see it as their responsibility then the American leadership should say so clearly. To Obama’s credit and as a small victory of sorts for Bibi the American negotiators are now insisting that Iranians put a 10 year moratorium on nuclear research which Tehran has rejected outright. Bibi rattled the cage in Washington and it shows.

India is also concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. India sees Iran as a counter to Sunnite Pakistan and we have close relations with Tehran. And yet we have been threatened by Tehran more than once. India is uncomfortable with the possibility of a nuclear Iran. The Modi administration has close ties with Tel Aviv. Lately, on his trip to New York to address the United Nations the Indian Prime Minister met not only Bibi Netanyahu but also his Saudi counterpart. This is a paradigm shift in Indian policy. Israel is not short of friends. And then there is no problem that does not have a solution. Could Tel Aviv look East for its problems? India understands the situation better than what their Western friends do. India has mid-air re-fuelling capacity and its Su30MKi are monstrous fighting machines capable of impressive payloads. Just a thought!

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