Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, D.C., escalated the controversy surrounding the U.S.-led talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration has been negotiating with Iran’s leaders in Switzerland, but Netanyahu took the podium to warn that the talks would lead to “a very bad deal.”
“We’re better off without it,” Netanyahu said.
The speech was intended to establish Iran as the gravest threat to the Western world. Netanyahu elaborated on that point by comparing Iran to Islamic State group, claiming the two are engaged in a “game of thrones” for militant Islamic rule. Although those two are also enemies, Netanyahu argued, there is a clear distinction between them.
“The difference is that (Islamic State) is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs,” Netanyahu said. “We must always remember — I’ll say it one more time — the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat (Islamic State) and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.”
Netanyahu has reasons to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, has been outspoken about wanting to destroy Israel. Israel is a small nation, the world’s only Jewish state in a region dominated by Islamic countries that oppose its existence. In Khamenei’s own words: “Israel is the sinister, unclean rabid dog of the region.” Khamenei has more recently used Twitter as a platform to spread his anti-Israeli message, in statements like the following:
From the U.S. perspective, the threat is much different. Both Islamic State and Iran are relatively distant threats to U.S. power, but only one of them captures journalists and subjects them to public beheadings. The U.S. also has a greater interest in Islamic State because the group is attempting to claim territory in Iraq after lengthy U.S. involvement in that country. Iran may be more a established nation, but Islamic State can't be counted out.
Israel, of course, is a major U.S. major ally in the Middle East. The U.S. has a history of protecting and supporting it. If the U.S. is going to take military action against Islamic State, why shouldn’t it impose sanctions against Iran? Netanyahu is correct in that the U.S.’s perception of its enemies is slightly misguided, but his perception is also likely misguided. Iran’s anti-Israel rhetoric is scary, but it’s unlikely it would actually use nuclear weapons. The concept of mutually assured destruction has proved to be enough of a deterrent so far, especially with nations like the U.S. standing in the way.
Realistically, both Islamic State and Iran are threats to the Western world. They’re also threats to each other. Solving these issues isn’t as simple as taking military or economic action against either group. Netanyahu is correct that there's a "game of thrones" going on, but Israel and the U.S. are just as involved. The best hope is that it can all be solved with peaceful talks and not sensationalist rhetoric. Reaching a deal in Switzerland could be the first step towards making that a reality.
Image Source: AP Photo/Susan Walsh via Salon.com