October 21, 2018

Bibi, you’re no Moses

So, he spoke.

And while his rhetoric soared, his ideas sank.

He gave us a thousand reasons why the deal whose details he may not know is a flawed one. He gave us not a single pragmatic better option.

Not one.

And life, they say, is not about what’s ideal. It’s about what’s possible. 

Bibi said he wants Iran to abandon its nuclear program, renounce its desire to obliterate Israel and stop supporting terrorism. Ideally the Iranian regime would react to continuing or increased sanctions by doing those things.  

But expert after expert tells us that if these talks fail, there’s a far better chance the sanctions regime, which is dependent on the cooperation of Russia, China and other ornery nations, will fall apart, and whatever hobbles are now on Iran’s nuclear development will fall away. 

In other words, the most dangerous thing for Israel, America and the world might possibly be for Bibi to get his way.

If Iran is as crazy, messianic and violent as Bibi spent a good third of his speech asserting — then his proposal makes even less sense. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from crazy people is first keep them away from dangerous weapons — not make them promise to change. Maybe Bibi has the right ideas, but they’re in the wrong order.

In fact, Bibi’s speech — solid, stirring as it was — left me more perplexed than convinced. I couldn’t agree more with him about the historic levels of support the Obama administration has shown for Israel, and about the very real, existential danger the Iranian regime poses for Israel.  

But these other applause lines made me wonder:

“Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war,” Bibi said. “That’s just not true.”

Note that Bibi said, “war,” not “military action.” It is more likely a breakdown in talks will compel the latter, even if Israel and the United States are able to avoid the former. But in any case, unless Bibi can say — and he couldn’t — what a better deal is, his words here ring hollow. 

Remember Colin Powell testifying in the run-up to the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein was trafficking in yellow cake uranium — an assertion that proved false and helped lead us into a disastrous war? If Bibi’s planless plan fails, well, this might be Bibi’s yellow cake moment.

“The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends.”

And that better deal is …? 

Barack Obama, as opposed to his predecessors, worked to get the world on board for a sanctions regime predicated on getting Iran to agree to a reasonable deal. 

If those countries aren’t on board, those sanctions, in the words of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “are going to get leaky very soon.” 

With no deal and no sanctions, Iran will continue to develop its nukes uninspected. 

“Imagine 10 years of no deal,” said Zakaria, “and where will Iran be at that point?”

My friends, for over a year,” Bibi said, “we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal.

Actually, the administration has made clear the opposite is the case.

“I have repeatedly said that I would rather have no deal than a bad deal, but if we are successful in negotiating, then in fact this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said, reacting to Bibi’s speech. “Nothing else comes close. Sanctions won’t do it. Military action would not be as successful as the deal that we have put forward.”

“Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar‘— call their bluff,” Bibi continued. “They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.”

Bibi likes to paint Obama as the over-eager suitor to the borderline offensive stereotype of the wily Oriental bargainer.  But in doing so, he ascribes great rationality to a regime he just convinced us was nuts. The truth is, there is ample historical precedent for Iran choosing principle over payout. 

“This is why … as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”

This hubris played well in Congress and perhaps back home — though we won’t know how well until Election Day in Israel two weeks from now.

There was a time in Jewish history when Israel tried to stand alone: It’s called Masada.  In modern Israeli history, Israel has never stood alone — it couldn’t survive five minutes without the backing of a superpower. Every prime minister has understood this.  That Bibi pretends otherwise — and, in recent weeks, has acted otherwise — endangers Israel’s security.

Bottom line:  Bibi provided a clear path away from negotiations, but not toward a non-nuclear Iran. 

At the end of his speech, he pointed to a painting of Moses that adorns the Capitol. You have to love the irony. Moses, you’ll remember, had a speech impediment. He never could have been as eloquent as Bibi. Then again, great speeches alone don’t get you to the Promised Land.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.