Bibi and the Troublemakers
(KAL/The Economist)

Despite the high political drama surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint meeting of Congress today , he broke little if any new ground. We already knew how he views the U.S.-led negotiations with Tehran over Iran's disputed nuclear program. We are left then wondering what the point was of his decision to inject himself into the partisan wrangling in Washington by speaking at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner against President Barack Obama's wishes.

Mr. Netanyahu said Israel feels threatened by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, that Israel doesn't trust Iran to abide by any agreement it signs and that the only way to ensure Iran doesn't get the bomb is to dismantle its nuclear program entirely. It's a position he has stated on many previous occasions, and we understand why those are all deeply held concerns for him and the Israeli people. We're also certain that President Obama does too.


Unfortunately, the likelihood that Iran will agree to terms that would satisfy Mr. Netanyahu is practically nil. And while Mr. Netanyahu was passionate about his opposition to a "bad deal" that he claimed would actually "pave the path" to an Iranian nuclear weapon when the agreement expires in 10 to 15 years, he was uncharacteristically silent when it came to spelling out the alternatives (other than to say that "no deal is better than a bad deal," which is actually not that far from what the Obama administration has been saying all along).

But let's be clear about what that means. The alternatives are to continue negotiating for a better deal, tightening economic sanctions to put even more pressure on Tehran or engaging in military action aimed at destroying the country's nuclear infrastructure.

Neither Washington nor Tehran have indicated any interest in extending the current talks past this month's deadline for a framework agreement. Tightening sanctions now is a guarantee that those negotiations will fail. And any U.S. or Israeli military strike on Iran undoubtedly would just make the country's leaders that much more determined to develop nuclear weapons over the long run.

Israel probably doesn't have the kinds of conventional weapons that would be needed to destroy Iran's most important nuclear facilities, which are buried deep underground or inside mountains. But the world would instantly turn against the Jewish state if it attacked those sites with nuclear weapons. The U.S. has bunker-busting bombs that might be effective in neutralizing Iran's nuclear infrastructure, but then what? The only way to assure Iran wouldn't reconstitute its program somewhere else where it was even harder to strike, is to invade it, overthrow the government and occupy the country. We tried that in Iraq, and we saw how it turned out.

Mr. Netanyahu is right to say that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat not just to Israel and its neighbors in the region but ultimately to the whole world, including Europe and the United States. Yet that's the same position held by President Obama, who has vowed repeatedly to prevent Iran from building a bomb. Mr. Netanyahu simply misrepresents the U.S. president when he suggests Mr. Obama is pushing for a deal that gives Iran a nuclear weapons capability. They may disagree on how best to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but they are equally committed to ending the threat.

Moreover, if the negotiations with Iran don't work out, the U.S. will still have the option of ratcheting up sanctions or launching a military strike. Mr. Obama has pointedly refused to take anything off the table if the talks fail. But it makes sense to pursue a diplomatic resolution to the crisis first. Mr. Netanyahu may believe the effort is destined to fail, but trying to poison the well before that even happens is unhelpful in the extreme.