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Netanyahu Squandering Israel's "Rationality" Advantage Over Iran

September 18, 2012 ·

On Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's personal tachometer of war, the needle is always at the red line.

On Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's personal tachometer of war, the needle is always at the red line.

Widespread in Washington is an assumption as implicit as it is unexamined that the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel, even though it hasn't signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), is acceptable because:

1. It's an ally.
2. It's "rational."

Bear in mind that Iran is a signatory to the NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors prowl Iran 24/7 365 days a year.*

But Israel, or to be more exact, Prime Minister Netanyahu, seems to be doing everything within his power to disabuse us of the notion that Israel is either an ally or rational. Netanyahu, constantly monitoring his personal tachometer of war, keeps watching for the needle to approach the red line. His latest impolitic outburst occurred on NBC's Meet the Press, Sunday, July 16. Among other things he said:

Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East, stabilize the Middle East. I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity.

Of course, proliferation is never a good idea. But Netanyahu's language became more and more un-prime-minister-like as the show proceeded. Speaking of Iran's leadership, he said:

They put their zealotry above their survival. They have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn’t rely on their rationality, you know, you-- since the advent of nuclear weapons, you had countries that had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit. But Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons? 

Netanyahu is propagating two myths:

1. Netanyahu is implying that any belief in the return of the Mahdi on the part of Iran's leadership means that, like Christian millennialists, it courts the Apocalypse.
2. That those attacking American embassies -- Sunni extremists at their worst, as in Benghazi -- have much in common with Shiite Iran.

Meanwhile, Washington, too, seems incapable of putting itself in Tehran's shoes. How, Tehran no doubt wonders, does a state like Israel get away with not only not refusing to sign the NPT, but enlisting the help of the entire West in upholding the pretense that it's not in possession of a nuclear-weapons program?

The jury may still be out on whether disarmament initiatives by states with nuclear-weapons spurs states that aspire to a nuclear-weapons program to give up that dream. But, in a just world, Israel needs to give the world the opportunity to learn what the impact of signing the NPT and allowing IAEA inspectors into its own country would have on Iran before considering an attack. Of course, the evidence that Iran is developing nuclear-weapons or the capability to manufacture is little more -- if that -- than circumstantial thus far. But nuclear transparency on the part of Israel would likely induce concessions on enrichment from Iran. Of perforce, the temperature of Netanyahu's war fever would be lowered and the dial on his war tachometer would recede safely into the black.

*Which, incidentally, place them in harm's way in the event of an attack by Israel. Alternately, if pulled out, Iran knows an attack is forthcoming and Israel loses the element of surprise.