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Saturday, August 23, 2014

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A clear message to the world

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Regardless of one’s political predilections, one’s attitude toward the policies of Israel’s current government, or one’s view of Benjamin Netanyahu’s strengths and weaknesses as a retail politician, one has to admire the Israeli prime minister’s ability to make his point.

His speech before the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 will long be remembered for his drawing of a bomb that appeared to come straight out of a Roadrunner cartoon. He was trying to stress that Iran was, and is, edging ever closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon – a clear existential threat to the world’s only Jewish state.

This year, as the newly elected, ostensibly “moderate” and apparently charm-laden Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, embarked on a public relations blitz aimed at western media and western leaders, Netanyahu came to New York and gave an equally memorable, if slightly less flamboyant, speech.

He warned the global community in no uncertain terms that Israel cannot stomach a nuclear Iran.

“Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in his Oct. 1 address, the last by a world leader at this year’s opening of the General Assembly. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone, but in standing alone, Israel will know we are defending many, many others.”

He also warned against trusting Rouhani to keep his word when he promises full transparency on the nuclear file.

“When it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, here’s my advice: distrust, dismantle and verify,” Netanyahu said.

Given Iran’s and Rouhani’s intertwined and obfuscatory track records on the issue, this is wise counsel.

As Paul Michaels details in his According to Reports column this week, Rouhani boasted to Iranian TV as recently as last May about how, in 2003, Iran misled the international community on the activities of its nuclear program.

While it may be possible that Netanyahu was doing U.S. President Barack Obama a favour by playing the bad cop to Obama’s more benevolent persona, Israel can’t afford to take Rouhani at his word, nor can it rely on the United States or the global community to defend it.

And lest anyone think otherwise, it’s not warmongering to inform the world that Israel can’t afford to trust the extremist Islamic Republic to act rationally, never mind responsibly, with a stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Israel cannot sit idly by and wait, even if an attack on Iran carries heavy risks. One nuclear strike could – and most likely would – be devastating to a small country with a highly concentrated population.

And even if one’s politics – domestically or in relation to the Middle East – don’t lean to the right, it’s hard not to admire the Harper government’s strong and consistent stand in support of Israel.

This was fully in evidence when Foreign Minister John Baird expressed his own skepticism about Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the General Assembly Sept. 30.

Such a stand in support of Israel doesn’t appear to buy the Canadian government much political capital, and in fact may come at a cost. But its attitude seems to be that the truth isn’t a popularity contest. And like Netanyahu’s own chutzpadik speech, it was a brave stand to take.

Daniel Wolgelerenter

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