The big powers, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, recently reached a deal with Iran to temporarily freeze a nuclear program that could have produced a weapon for that country. In return, the U.S. and five other nations have agreed to ease up on economic sanctions that have long hurt Iranian citizens and their economy. The deal just negotiated is intended to buy time to pursue a more comprehensive agreement that would halt — or even roll back — Iran’s nuclear program altogether.
Of course, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately denounced the deal as an “historic mistake,” saying that Israel will never allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon. John Baird, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, is only slightly less provocative in his insistence that Iran can’t be trusted. Baird’s over-heated remarks are in marked contrast to those of U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders who prefer diplomacy to belligerence.
Here, we have two ironies although they are seldom mentioned in the news and even less often in speeches made by political leaders.
One is that Israel has possessed nuclear weapons for years but refuses to admit it. It’s estimated that Israel has between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads loaded on short- and medium-range missiles, putting them on a par with Britain and France. Conversely, Iran has no nuclear weapons and says that its program is being developed for peaceful purposes only. Still, many countries do not believe that, and Iran has been the subject of punishing economic sanctions, including the freezing of international bank accounts containing revenue from oil sales.
So when might we expect similar pressure to be placed upon Israel to acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons and agree to dismantle them?
The second irony is Netanyahu’s insistence that economic sanctions against Iran should remain in place. As justification, he points to Iran’s domestic human rights abuses and its proxy support of Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. Yet the Israeli government and its supporters bristle at any mention of economic sanctions against Israel for its decades-long oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
As for foreign interventions, Israeli jets have made several attacks on Syria. It’s also widely believed that Israel was behind the assassinations of four scientists working within Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel dismisses any suggestion of equivalency between its actions at home and abroad and those of Iran. This stance may resonate in Israel and to a lesser extent in Western nations, but from the perspective of the Palestinians and Israel’s Middle Eastern neighbours, it is seen as a hollow and self-serving claim.
In early October, Netanyahu delivered a bitter speech before the United Nations, denouncing negotiations with Iran as a ruse and a ploy, and describing Iran’s newly elected president Rasan Rouhani as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.“
But as commentators have pointed out to both Netanyahu and Baird, it is not so much a matter of trust as of verifiable assurances that Iran is not building a bomb.
This article appeared on the United Church Observer blog on November 28, 2013.