Though his fans thrill to his speeches, there’s little doubt that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the U.N. General Assembly, few there listen. So when Netanyahu issued what seemed like a blockbuster revelation about a new Iranian nuclear site that was not being monitored by international inspectors, the reaction from the world body and the mainstream media was one of indifference.
The reasons for this are no mystery.
While Israel is often treated as a pariah nation at the United Nations, the disdain for Netanyahu there and in other international forums is perhaps even greater than for the Jewish state itself.
The United Nations has been a particularly tough crowd for the prime minister. Everyone remembers the bomb illustration he used in his 2012 speech to the UNGA. Rather than heed the alarm he was sounding about Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu was mocked for using what looked like something out of a “Road Runner” cartoon. That particular illustration wasn’t a great idea, but it’s likely that any prop or rhetorical device he would have used would have been equally scorned.
So when he trotted out another prop last week—a photo of a heretofore unknown or at least unpublicized Iranian nuclear site—the reaction from those who claim to care about nonproliferation was apathetic silence. As far as the international community is concerned, there’s nothing Netanyahu could say that would interest them, no matter what the topic.
Some of even those who take his announcement seriously might be inclined to blame him for this state of affairs. Had he been more willing to play the diplomatic game with America’s European allies—or paid lip service to the glory of multilateral institutions and the wisdom of their officials—maybe the world would pay more attention to Israel’s warnings.
Netanyahu is no Shimon Peres or Abba Eban when it comes to playing along with the international media and foreign-policy establishment. It’s also true that his unsympathetic personality has gotten on the nerves of many world leaders. The “open mic” moment when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Barack Obama commiserated about the time they had to spend talking to him spoke volumes about his unpopularity in those circles.
Yet this is also something of a bum rap for Netanyahu. One of the most underreported stories of the last several years has been his progress in creating closer relations between Israel and a host of Third World and European nations. More than most Israeli leaders in his country’s history, he actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to foreign policy and dealing with global issues. For all of the complaints about him not playing nicely with world leaders, the problem here is the international community’s disinterest in confronting the truth about Iran and the bad bargain Obama struck with the ayatollahs.
While no one could have expected Netanyahu to be acclaimed at the UNGA, you would think that the body that deals with nuclear questions—the International Atomic Energy Agency—would have jumped on the latest revelation about Iran from Israel’s formidable intelligence operatives.
But the answer from the IAEA was no different this week.
Rather than vow to inspect this site, the IAEA dismissed Netanyahu’s claim. IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said in a statement that his agency “uses all safeguards relevant to information available to it, but it does not take any information at face value. All information obtained, including from third parties, is subject to rigorous review.” In other words, he wasn’t interested.
Maybe that’s because the IAEA’s information is better than Israel’s. Maybe Netanyahu was exaggerating when he spoke of 15 kilograms of nuclear material that was moved from the site in Maher Alley, Turquzabad district of Iran, and that it is believed to contain more than 300 tons of material of various kinds. Maybe the Iranian denial that anything fishy is going on there should be believed. But anyone who is willing to bet on any of that being true is taking quite a gamble not just with Israel’s security, but that of the world.
Nothing short of an exhaustive IAEA inspection of the site is necessary in order to be sure that Iran isn’t cheating on the nuclear deal. But that isn’t going to happen because, as Amano made clear, he doesn’t take suggestions from Israel.
While unlike most U.N. agencies, the IAEA has a generally good reputation, the problem here is the nuclear pact as much as anything else. Once it became clear that the initial Obama administration promise of “anytime, anywhere” inspections was dropped along with most other Western demands during the negotiations, Iran’s ability to work around the margins of the deal was guaranteed. Military sites were exempted from inspections, and any sites that are visited are given advance notice.
Moreover, the entire dynamic of the deal was always going to work against the sort of vigilance that might upset the apple cart. Having invested so heavily in the notion that, in Obama’s words, Iran wanted to “get right with the world,” small violations or deceptions were sure to be ignored. So, too, were any Israeli intelligence discoveries since the Jewish state was considered too prejudiced against Iran to be truthful about its activities.
This site that won’t be inspected is just more proof that the Trump administration is right to throw out a deal that can’t be verified and that will eventually lead to an Iranian weapon anyway once it expires. It’s also right to begin ratcheting up sanctions next month, and to force Europe to choose between doing business with Tehran or the United States if it won’t go along with America’s demands. Even if the world isn’t prepared to listen to Netanyahu, the truth about the Iranian threat cannot be ignored any longer.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.