Why Netanyahu's Afraid of Diplomacy

(…)Behind the rhetoric and hysterical talking points, there are legitimate Israeli concerns about the impact of diplomacy on its security. The Netanyahu government (and its predecessors since the Rabin-Peres government) have feared that successful negotiations would lead inevitably to a compromise that would permit Iran to continue with limited enrichment activities on its soil.

They are right.

But rather than viewing this as a beneficial compromise that at the end of the day prevents Iran from building a nuclear bomb, Israel fears that this will permit Iran to become a virtual nuclear power, which in turn would shift the balance of power in the region to Israel’s detriment.

Virtual nuclear parity in the region would damage Israel's ability to deter militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations and cause it to lose strategic maneuverability. It would damage Israel’s image as the sole nuclear-armed state in the region and undercut the myth of its invincibility. Gone would be the days when Israel's military supremacy would enable it to dictate the parameters of peace and pursue unilateral peace plans. "We cannot afford a nuclear bomb in the hands of our enemies, period. They don't have to use it; the fact that they have it is enough," veteran Israeli politician Ephraim Sneh explained to me in an interview for my book.

This geopolitical shift could force a reluctant Netanyahu government to accept territorial compromises with its neighbors. Arguably, Israel would not be able to afford a nuclear rivalry with Iran and continued territorial disputes with the Arabs at the same time.

Second, by striking a deal with Iran, the US would reduce tensions with the autocratic rulers of Tehran. There would, however, not be a proportional reduction in Israeli-Iranian tensions. This would trigger the Israeli fear of abandonment— the idea that it would continue to face a hostile Iran in the region while the US would patch up its differences with Tehran and turn its focus elsewhere. The ripple effect this would have on other, non-related challenges Israel face—such as its demographic battle— could be decisive.

Trita Parsi is the President of the National Iranian American Council and the 2010 Recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

The above article was published in thedailybeast.com on April 17th, 2012 (2:00 p.m. EDT).

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