All of the chatter out of Vienna suggests the Iranian nuclear talks are making substantial progress, and the prospects for a P5+1 agreement are improving. Of course, we’ve seen encouraging signs before, only to have setbacks follow soon after, so everyone will have to continue to wait as developments continue to unfold.
But while we wait, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a fierce opponent of the international diplomacy – is ratcheting up his criticisms. This was an actual tweet published from Netanyahu’s official/verified Twitter account yesterday:
“Iran’s increasing aggression is more dangerous than that of ISIS, and the true goal of this aggression in the end is to take over the world.”
Well, no, actually that’s impossible to take seriously. Vox’s Zack Beauchamp explained that Iran is clearly a destabilizing force in the Middle East, threatening Israel and bolstering Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but “the notion that Iran could ‘take over the world’ or even wants to is so ridiculous that it would make Pinky and the Brain blush.”
Iran is a second-rate military power opposed by substantially more powerful Israel and a hostile Sunni Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia; it can’t even take over the Middle East, let alone the world. Its current objective is to secure itself and to expand its political and military influence in the region. The latter goal is dangerous, for sure, since Iran’s strategy centers on the use of violent proxy groups like Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia militias who destabilize the countries they operate in. But a plot to take over the world this is not.
If the Israeli prime minister wants to argue that Iran is untrustworthy, no problem. If he identifies credible flaws in the international deal that’s taking shape, fine. But when Netanyahu argues that Iran’s “true goal” is taking over the planet, it’s unintentionally hilarious.
We’re talking about a country with a GDP comparable to North Carolina’s. If Iran couldn’t possibly “take over” the Middle East, why on earth would the Israeli prime minister raise the fear of Iran taking over seven continents?
Beauchamp makes the argument that Netanyahu doesn’t want to be blamed by Israeli voters if/when the international agreement is completed. As a matter of domestic politics, that’s no doubt true.
But Netanyahu isn’t just communicating with a domestic audience.
It’s important for the Israeli prime minister to be seen as credible on the international stage. When he raises concerns – about Iran or anything else – it does Israel no favors for Netanyahu to generate global eye-rolling with rants few can take seriously.
Indeed, we’re now faced with the very real possibility that the prime minister will end up with the worst of all possible scenarios: a nuclear deal he despises, a badly tarnished relationship with his country’s closest ally and benefactor, and a reputation for pushing desperate nonsense when the prevailing winds shift direction.
In a global context, a leader’s standing can make an enormous difference. The next time Netanyahu condemns developments he doesn’t like, many will invariably wonder, “Isn’t he the one who warned Iran’s true goal was world domination?”