“We have to stop [Iran's] nuclear enrichment program before it’s too late. And I have to tell you, from the bottom of my heart and with the clarity of my brain: words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat, if diplomacy and sanctions fail.
“I deeply appreciate something President Obama has said repeatedly — you’ve just heard Vice President Biden say it again: Israel must always be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat to its existence.”
This was the core of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech yesterday as he addressed the key representatives of the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and the Obama administration who had all convened for their annual display of allegiance to AIPAC.
Netanyahu’s message was unambiguous: hand over the money you promised. Sequestration is your problem, not ours.
How can Israel possibly continue to make credible military threats against Iran if at the hour of its greatest need, Washington betrays the Jewish state by making cuts in the 20% share of its defense budget that American taxpayers are obligated to pay?
We must stand by Israel, Washington will continue to say with an undivided voice over the coming days, even while failing to stand by millions of senior Americans who will soon no longer be receiving meals-on-wheels thanks to sequestration. When it comes weighing up conflicting demands coming from AARP and AIPAC, our elected representatives know which side their bread is buttered on.
Yet the issue might be seen as a little less clear-cut if anyone paused to parse Netanyahu’s latest evocation of his perennial rhetorical standby: directing military threats against Iran.
There was nothing new in Netanyahu’s statement and taken at face value it might sound like he was issuing yet another military threat. If that was indeed the case, then based on his own reasoning — that the continued expansion of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program demonstrates that diplomacy and sanctions have been ineffective — it follows: military threats from Netanyahu are also ineffective. He’s been making what sound like threats for years and yet enrichment continues.
On the other hand, even if Netanyahu likes to assume a threatening posture, what he is saying strongly implies that Israel is actually incapable of making a credible military threat against Iran. Strikes on targets in Syria and Iraq have arguable done more to demonstrate the limits of Israeli air power than its potential to strike Iran.
What Netanyahu is really calling for is louder threats from Washington. That a military threat remains “on the table” and that “we’ve got your back covered,” is not enough.
If a year ago Obama was telling AIPAC there was too much “loose talk of war,” Netanyahu’s response now is that there isn’t enough talk of war.
For a while the Israeli prime minister thought he could cajole the U.S. by saying: you must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will — but the only coherent part of that message was the bit Israel is now left with: we can’t; you must.
Even worse for Netanyahu, he no longer has the power to threaten Obama’s chances for re-election.
As for how all this looks from Tehran, with a jaundiced eye no doubt they are simply asking: what’s new?