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Zuckerman Bound

Nicholas Jahr
March 13, 2015

Dissecting Mort Zuckerman’s Defense of Netanyahu’s Speech

by Nicholas Jahr

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a point as he addresses a joint meeting of Congress in WashingtonLAST WEEK, on the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, billionaire Mort Zuckerman, chair of U.S. News & World Report and publisher of the New York Daily News, stood up on his soapbox and sang an ode to Bibi, justifying the unprecedented intervention as something like a world-historical imperative.

For every strophe, a counterstrophe:

Why will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to Congress on Tuesday to the anger of President Obama? He’s speaking because his country’s fate hangs in the balance of Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Why did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to Congress last week, angering President Obama, undermining the ‘special relationship’ between Israel and the US, and opening American Jews to charges of dual loyalty? He spoke because his political fate hangs in the balance as Israeli elections approach.

He’s speaking because Obama is ready to accept Iran as a nuclear power.

He spoke because Obama actually seems close to reaching a deal with Iran.

He’s speaking because oil-rich Iran has no need for peaceful nuclear power.

He spoke because his own intelligence service, the Mossad, concluded in 2012 that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”

He’s speaking because Iran had clandestinely built illegal nuclear capacity and engaged in illegal weapons development.

He spoke because although Iran had almost certainly attempted to develop a nuclear weapon, all evidence and intelligence suggests it is not currently doing so.

He’s speaking because the deal will certify that Iran has a right to enrich uranium, a necessary step in bomb making.

He spoke because Iran has an “inalienable right” to develop, research, produce, and use “nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination” under the Nuclear Non-ProliferationTreaty, to which Iran is a signatory and Israel is not.

He’s speaking because Obama is putting Iran on the threshold of nuclear weaponry.

He spoke because Obama might just establish a new relationship with Iran, and Iran with the world.

He’s speaking because Obama imagines that he can... prevent the mullahs from building a bomb for at least a year.

He spoke because according to his initial estimate, Iran would have had the bomb fifteen to twenty years ago.

He’s speaking because the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded in 2012 that “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

He spoke because the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded in 2011 that “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” but that this had only occurred as part of a structured program “prior to the end of 2003″ [PDF], after which time a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate determined with “high confidence” that Iran had abandoned that program.

He’s speaking because a year will be no time at all if Iran decides to race for the bomb.

He spoke because he seems to believe fanning the flames consuming the Arab world into a howling conflagration with a preventive strike on Iran is a rational option.

He’s speaking because Iran has repeatedly sabotaged nuclear inspections and refuses to cooperate with inspectors to this day.

He spoke because an agreement might mean that the inspectors’ remaining questions were answered.

He’s speaking because Iran has ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel.

He spoke because Israel does not seem to have sufficient air power to stage a preventive strike on Iran on its own.

He’s speaking because Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and has said it “has no cure but to be annihilated.”

He spoke because while the Ayatollahs indulge in anti-Semitic rhetoric to shore up the legitimacy of their theocracy, he believes they are rational enough to respond to sanctions, yet so irrational they will use a bomb as soon as they have the opportunity.

He’s speaking because Iran is working toward regional domination by supporting dictator Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war, dominating Lebanon through Hezbollah, aligning with Shiites in Iraq, subverting numerous regimes and sponsoring Palestinian terror.

He spoke because he is fundamentally incapable of appreciating that the Iranian people could have legitimate security concerns, fed by the fact that Israel (haunted by existential fear) launched preventive attacks on the nuclear programs of Hussein’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria, while Israel’s closest ally, the United States, eventually toppled and occupied the former before declaring Iran was next in line in the “axis of evil,” even as Iran has found itself surrounded by nuclear powers with whom it has difficult relations (Israel, India, and Pakistan).

He’s speaking because nuclear capability would make Iran the Middle Eastern equivalent of a superpower and could drive nations like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt into an arms race.

He spoke because Iranian President Rouhani said in March 2014 that “Even if there were no NPT or other treaties, our belief, our faith, our religion and principles tell us not to seek weapons of mass destruction.”

He’s speaking because Obama’s deal will reportedly bind Iran for only ten years.

He spoke because Obama’s deal will reportedly take the nuclear issue off the table for a decade.

He’s speaking because Obama dreams that in a decade, with the passing of 75-year-old Khamenei, Iran will leave behind theocratic government for enlightened engagement with the world.

He spoke because Iran has been an essential part of his worldview for so long, he can not imagine how to justify his militarism without it.

He’s speaking because Iran’s supposedly moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, has just presided over a parade that included missiles bearing the words “death to Israel.”

He spoke because the Iranian people elected a moderate president who has staked his tenure on the negotiations; if they fail, Iranian hardliners will once again be ascendant.

He’s speaking because Obama has been shaky about using economic sanctions to pressure Iran.

He spoke because despite Netanyahu’s bluster, Obama successfully led an effort to impose economic sanctions on Iran that pressured the country to negotiate.

He’s speaking because Obama has shown no inclination to walk away from the table.

He spoke because Obama has indeed shown no inclination to walk away from the table.

He’s speaking because a President who famously said, “We’ve got Israel’s back,” and who says that he would choose no deal over a bad deal, has surrendered so much to Iran that a good deal is virtually impossible.

He spoke because he has repeatedly humiliated President Obama and his administration without any consequences.

He’s speaking because Congress may be Israel’s last, best hope for averting the Iranian nuclear threat. He’s speaking because he must.

He spoke because the Republican Congress will seize any opportunity to oppose the President and foil his agenda. He spoke because he needs to reassure his base that he can still rally American support. He spoke because opposition to Israel’s policies among American Jews is growing, and fear for Israel’s survival will keep many from breaking ranks. He spoke for no other reason than that he chose to do so.

Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer and member of the editorial board of Jewish Currents. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasjahr.

Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn and a member of Jewish Currents’ editorial board. In the past he has written for the magazine about comics, film, the diaspora, Israeli elections, and Palestinian nonviolence. His work has appeared in the International New York Times, The Nation, City & State, and the Village Voice (RIP).