Friday, September 28, 2012

On Netanyahu's Red Line

Amid all the chuckling about Bibi's (literally) cartoonish illustration of the Iranian nuclear "threat" (and yes, the Looney Tunes cartoonists of an earlier era would have been proud of that drawing), it's important to remember that this is a bone that Bibi is not going to drop.  The issue of red lines remains.  Mr. Obama refuses to specify one (and I, for one, am happy for that).  But Mr. Netanyahu's red line is clear.

Except that it isn't - nor can it be.

He has been clear for quite some time that he wants no enriched uranium in Iran's hands, and he wants Iran's capacity to enrich uranium dismantled and removed.  This, of course, despite that fact that as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), Iran has the right, assured under international law, to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.  That horse has been out of the barn a long time.  Ain't no getting it back in, short of all-out war that would entail Iran's unconditional surrender.  Never gonna happen.  No red line possible.

That leaves the weaponization as the only issue in which a red line might feasibly be drawn.  Obama has said that US "will not allow" Iran to have a nuclear weapon.  Whether the US has the will - or even the power (cf. Iraq, Afghanistan) - to prevent that remains to be seen. (Personally, I feel containment is a real option here; but let's not go there now.)  Bibi, on the other hand, demands that Iran be denied the ability to develop one.

How do you do that, short of exterminating all of Iran's physicists, engineers, and such - including their students?  Short of obliterating all of Iran's universities, research institutes, . . . even high-school science departments?  How many plants and shops would have to be demolished?  Given Netanyahu's evident paranoia about Iran's intentions, what would be enough to satisfy him?

Would it require the kind of sanctions regime that the US and its UN allies imposed on Iraq starting in 1990?  Similarly denying Iran "dual-use" materials - prohibitions that virtually destroyed Iraq's economy and infrastructure, and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, many of them children and the elderly?

Truly, what will ever be enough for Bibi?


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