The cat is out of the bag. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Israeli government is officially the bad boy of international politics as dictated by U.S. President Barack Obama's White House.
Obama's mouthpiece, The New York Times editorial board, slammed Netanyahu for his "aggressive," "sarcastic," and "combative" speech at the U.N. The Times accuses Netanyahu of seeming "eager for a fight" with Iran, and approvingly quotes the Iranian accusation that Netanyahu's speech was "inflammatory" and deleterious to the "current positive atmosphere" required for successful diplomacy.
To top it all off, the newspaper indicts Netanyahu for "sabotaging diplomacy," something that will "only make the use of force more likely." It would be "disastrous," warns The Times, "if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress … block President Obama from taking advantage of new diplomatic openings and sabotage the best chance to establish a new relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution sent American-Iranian relations into the deep freeze."
The paper cautions "Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress" not to be "so blinded by distrust of Iran that they exaggerate the threat." Note these words carefully. Netanyahu is "blinded" by "distrust" of Iran and is "exaggerating" the Iranian threat.
In place of this "blind and mistrustful" approach, the newspaper seeks to instill clear thinking and trust of the Iranians. After all, it notes approvingly, "Mr. Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have insisted repeatedly that Iran wants only to develop nuclear energy and that obtaining a nuclear weapon would harm the country's security."
The paper concedes that Iran hid its nuclear program from United Nations inspectors for nearly 20 years, and that it is apparently developing detonators and missiles "that could only have nuclear weapons-related uses." But still, let's not let facts or Netanyahu's militarism get in the way of true reconciliation.
It's convenient for the newspaper and the administration to dismiss Netanyahu as pandering to "hard-line domestic audiences" – as it and former White House press secretary Robert Gibs did last night. But Israel mustn't let the administration get away with such cheap delegitimization of Israel and its leader. Israel must trot out the plain facts, over and over again, as Netanyahu did at the U.N., about Iran's record and intentions.
Iran was caught red-handed secretly building an underground centrifuge facility at Natanz. In 2009, Iran was again caught red-handed secretly building a huge underground nuclear facility for uranium enrichment in a mountain near Qom.
"Why would a country that claims to only want peaceful nuclear energy, why would such a country build hidden underground enrichment facilities?" Netanyahu said. "Why would a country with vast natural energy reserves invest billions in developing nuclear energy? Why would a country intent on merely civilian nuclear programs continue to defy multiple Security Council resolutions and incur the costs of crippling sanctions on its economy? And why would a country with a peaceful nuclear program develop intercontinental ballistic missiles whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads?"
It is certainly true that Netayahu is seeking to set a very high bar for American negotiations with the Iranians. Israel will accept nothing less than a complete dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear program, Netanyahu insists, including an end to all uranium enrichment; removal of all stockpiles of enriched uranium; dismantlement of the infrastructure for a nuclear breakout capability, including the underground facility near Qom and the advanced centrifuges in Natanz; and a halt to the construction of the heavy water reactor in Arak aimed at the production of plutonium.
That's quite a tall order, and it's easy to see how this makes Obama uncomfortable. It doesn't leave Obama much room for compromise with the Iranians.
But Israel is well within its rights to demand these concrete steps, and is backed up by multiple Security Council resolutions. It is not "blind mistrust" of Iran or niggardly Israeli nay-saying that leads Israel to insist on these measures, but rather hard-nosed realism and years of unfortunate experience with false and failed peace agreements.
Ten days ago, the literary editor of The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier, accused the Obama administration of abandoning morality in foreign policy and "willingly being played for a fool" by the Syrians. He accused Obama of being "heartless" over the ongoing chemical and conventional carnage in Syria.
"The responsibility to protect is so 20th century," he sardonically lamented. "America will not be the world's policeman; we will be the world's superpower bystander."
The same lament and warning applies to Obama's incipient rapprochement with the Iranians: Don't willingly be played for a fool.