clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

This tweet captures the glaring contradiction at the heart of Netanyahu's speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Congress
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Congress
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress on Tuesday argued that the US should abandon President Obama's effort to strike a nuclear deal with Iran.

His case was two-fold. First, the Iranian government is so inherently aggressive and so bent on conquest — he compared it to ISIS and Nazi Germany — that it would never abandon its quest for a nuclear weapon, and could not be persuaded by the incentives that might sway more rational states. He called Iran a state "whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war."

Second, Netanyahu urged the US to instead seek "a much better deal" that would require Iran to make even more concessions, and that the US could secure this by threatening more sanctions. "If Iran threatens to walk away from the table -- and this often happens in a Persian bazaar -- call their bluff," he said. "By maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more."

Can you see the giant, glaring contradiction between those two positions? If you need help, Foundation for Middle East Peace President Matt Duss put it more succinctly for you:

That's a pretty significant contradiction in Netanyahu's case for torpedoing Iran negotiations: the idea that Iran is both irrational and rational, depending on which policy Netanyahu is advocating.

But the Israeli prime minister is no dummy, which is why a lot of observers suspect that Netanyahu is perfectly aware of this contradiction. In this view, he doesn't actually want a "better deal" — the better deal he describes would be impossible for Iran to agree to. Rather, he wants the US to increase sanctions, isolation, and the threat of military strikes until Iran's Islamic government collapses or is otherwise destroyed. In other words, he doesn't want a better deal, he wants no deal.

This would certainly be more consistent with Netanyahu's characterization of the Iranian government as a grave and implacable threat to Israel's existence. Netanyahu is certainly correct that Iran poses a threat to Israel and that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a much greater threat. His view of Iran as so irrational that it is bent on Israel's destruction to the point of being suicidal, however, does not really stand up to analytical scrutiny. But the implication that the US should give up entirely on negotiations is not very politically palatable, which perhaps explains why he would go through the motions of seeking a better deal he doesn't actually want.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.