A week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's U.N. address, one can say that its immediate effect was that it took the luster off Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's own U.N. speech, which had received gushing media coverage. But the long-term effect of Netanyahu's speech will be equally important. Was Netanyahu able to bring discussions about the Iranian nuclear issue back to reality?
A ray of light on this question could in fact be found in the very New York Times editorial that called Netanyahu's speech "aggressive" and complained about his casting doubt on the chances of success of America's diplomatic effort. Israeli officials justly criticized the editorial, but what they failed to mention was that it explicitly stated both that Netanyahu has good reasons to be wary of Iran's intentions and that Iran has deceived the world about its nuclear program for the past two decades. The editorial also called for the U.S. to continue cooperating with Israel on the Iranian nuclear issue.
More worrisome was an op-ed written by David Ignatius, The Washington Post's senior diplomatic commentator, that praised U.S. President Barack Obama's recent foreign policy moves. Ignatius compared Obama's "successes" in Syria and Iran to Richard Nixon's China initiative and Ronald Reagan's victory in the Cold War. He did not mention Netanyahu's speech, but the spirit of the article was, "We've embarked on a new path with Iran and no one will take us off it."
The struggle against worrying trends over Iran is just getting underway, but it is not hopeless. Not only is the U.S. Congress united and determined to continue sanctions (and even strengthen them) and also take other steps to thwart Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, but Obama administration officials have also made statements indicating suspicions about Iran's intentions. We have seen U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel say that America's actions over Iran will not be based on blind trust, but rather on a "very verifiable, accountable, transparent process ... whereby we know exactly what Iran is going be doing with its program." There are even some who think that Netanyahu coordinated the content of his U.N. speech with Obama in advance, and that Netanyahu's clear and firm statements about Israel's military option were meant to strengthen America's hand at the negotiating table.
Israel must continue on the path that Netanyahu outlined in his speech: Burst balloons of illusion and deception, precisely mark the roadmap to preventing a nuclear Iran, and emphasize the responsibility of the U.S. and civilized world on this matter. Israel is not opposed to diplomatic moves, but it is warning that the failed diplomacy with North Korea, which obtained nuclear weapons under the cover of a diplomatic process, will not be repeated. Unfortunately, American and European hints that they would be willing to allow Iran to enrich uranium for "peaceful purposes" do not bode well, as the line between that and enrichment for military purposes can be crossed without anyone noticing.
Netanyahu's U.N. speech was a continuation of a tough, but successful, multiyear campaign to raise awareness about the Iranian nuclear threat and build a fortified wall against it. The campaign has now become more difficult. The wall must not be allowed to be breached because of a spirit of melancholy that has spread among those entrusted with its upkeep.