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The main takeaway from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's U.N. speech was the inference that he has been forced to relent on the possibility of military action against Iran, with his threats deferred past the U.S. election on Nov. 6 and off into next spring and beyond.
His ominous intonation that "everyone should have a sense of urgency" about Iran "amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon" went over like a dead trial balloon -- fatally punctured when he pushed the acute-worry-date into sometime in 2013:
Netanyahu then resorted to an unusual visual aid, apparently in an effort to draw attention away from his more relaxed projection regarding how soon Iran could get the bomb. The Israeli prime minister reached down from the podium and lifted high a graphic of a round bomb with a fuse, like the one typically seen in a "Road Runner" cartoon.
"I brought a diagram for you," Netanyahu said. "Here's the diagram. This is a bomb; this is a fuse." (Perhaps he was trying to trick the Iranians into mistaking the cartoon for the design of an actual bomb from Israel's secret nuclear arsenal -- and copy it as a schematic.)
Netanyahu used the crude drawing to depict the three main stages of uranium enrichment and pointed ominously to the "final stage" when he said Iran would have "enough high enriched uranium for the first bomb."
Having failed to get President Barack Obama to draw a "red line" at that point in the nuclear process, Netanyahu brandished his own red marker and drew a bold red line on the diagram. The solid red line was clear enough, but ambiguity remains about exactly how to relate the red ink to actual developments on the ground and a reasonable timeline.
Moreover, due skepticism seems warranted, given Netanyahu's unenviable record of dire predictions with respect to how soon Iran could get the bomb. If Netanyahu had been right initially, the Iranians would have had a nuclear weapon in the 1990s.
Netanyahu's stunt with the poster also brought to mind Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous war speech in 2003 when he displayed crude graphics depicting imaginary mobile chemical weapons labs in Iraq.
The rest of Netanyahu's speech was bromide and boilerplate, including the usual accusations that Muslims are "bent on world conquest" and want "to destroy Israel, Europe and America." The speech also contained repeated attempts to conflate "a nuclear-armed Iran" with "a nuclear-armed al-Qaeda," reminiscent of persistent efforts by the Bush administration and its "closest allies" to conjure up that very kind of alarming link between Iraq and al-Qaeda 10 years ago.
Netanyahu insisted, for example, that "It makes no difference whether these lethal weapons are in the hands of the world's most dangerous terrorist regime or the world's most dangerous terrorist organization. They're both fired by the same hatred; they're both driven by the same lust for violence."
But that argument would only appeal to the simple-minded or the true-believer. Al-Qaeda is a stateless terrorist organization that generally insinuates itself into lawless regions of countries with weak central authorities. It operates with no specific territorial headquarters, let alone an identifiable home country.
By contrast, Iran is a large nation with a history that dates back thousands of years. Unlike al-Qaeda, Iran could be easily targeted for retaliation if it did use a nuclear bomb, though its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has denounced as immoral even the development of a nuclear bomb and insists Iran has no intention of building one.
From Domestic Abuse to Honeymoon
Perhaps having read recent polls suggesting that Obama has a strong chance of winning reelection, Netanyahu also dropped his abusive tone regarding the President's refusal to shift the red line of war to simply Iran having the "capability" of building a bomb. Instead, the Prime Minister was effusive with praise for the politically buoyant Obama.
"I very much appreciate the President's position [rejecting the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran] as does everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program. ... What I have said today will help ensure that this common goal is achieved. Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue, and I am confident we can chart a path forward together."
Is this the same Netanyahu who repeatedly lashed out at Washington's reluctance to put the "red line" where he wanted? Is it the same Netanyahu who insisted, a mere two weeks ago, that -- given that reluctance -- the U.S. has "no moral right" to put pressure on Israel not to attack Iran?