As expected, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his address to the UN General Assembly completely sidestepped the issue of Middle East peace process by focusing on Iran's nuclear threat and making a strong pitch for a "red line" on Iran's nuclear activities.
Yet, by holding a bomb's sign and drawing a red line on 90 percent enrichment, Netanyahu may have in fact defeated his own purpose, in light of Iran's recent announcement that it has no intention of enriching uranium above 20 percent; that announcement was made earlier this month by the head of Iran's atomic energy organization, Mr. Fereydoun Abbasi, and reiterated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his latest trip to New York to attend the General Assembly gathering.
In other words, even if somehow superimposed on Iran by a united world community, hypothetically speaking, this "red line" would not be bothersome to Iran, which insists on the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and has even offered to engage in an exchange of its enriched uranium for outside supply of nuclear fuel -- Ahmadinejad in New York insisted that this offer, now three years old, is still on the table.
By setting the bar so high, Mr. Netanyahu has in fact done Iran a major service, by self-sabotaging his own constant sabre-rattling that is centered on the accusation of Iran's nuclear weaponization, thus undermining the stated rationale for military action against Iran. The irony is that despite such obvious contradictions, Mr. Netanyahu appeared clueless at the UN, which was organized with deafening PR ahead of time.
The mere fact that Netanyahu completely shunned the suggestion of some Israeli moderate politicians to give a nod in his speech to Palestinian statehood, or to present a hint that Israel favors the idea of a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone, or is perhaps willing to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as requested by the UN's atomic agency, simply compounded his problems.
Clearly, these are unhappy times for Israel, which is grappling with the seismic shifts of the Arab Spring, notwithstanding Egyptian President's UN speech that prioritized the Palestinian issue and Israel's refusal to join the NPT as well as its "arbitrary threat" against other nations, i.e., Iran. Israel is increasingly the victim of its own intransigent and hawkish policies, that have eroded its international support and introduced major frictions with its patron state, US government.
By all indications, Netanyahu and his US supporters had vested a great deal of hope in his UN speech -- to make a definitive and convincing case regarding the Iran nuclear threat and to close the cognitive gap with the US policy, reflected in Obama's UN speech that put the accent on prevention rather than containment of a nuclear Iran. Although Obama refrained from mentioning the familiar threat of "all options remain on the table" and did not offer any blueprint for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Netanyahu now seeks to fill the gaps and nail down specific benchmarks that would justify military action against Iran.
The trouble with this strategy is, however, as stated above the fact that Iran is not pursuing weapons grade enrichment at all, thus frustrating Netanyahu's war strategy. Henceforth, even if the White House and its next occupant consent to Netanyahu's "red line" on Iran, in effect they would be removing the military option and making it less and less likely, contrary to Netanyahu's stated intentions.
On the other hand, from Iran's vantage point, the advantage of this "red line" is that is bound to become yet another vivid reminder of the lack of justification for Iran sanctions and overtime this may turn into a putting the whole sanction regime in red ink, as a road better not taken. Consequently, an apt Iranian response to Netanyahu could be: no problem, bring on your red line since we have no intention of even approximating it, we shall see what excuse you will come up next? This is precisely why despite all the hoopla, Netanyahu's speech must be regarded as an exercise in futility.
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi is a former political science professor at Tehran University and former adviser to Iran's nuclear negotiation team (2004-2006), and author of several books including Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.