Netanyahu at the U.N.: Modernity vs. medievalism
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave what swiftly became known as “The Red Line Address” to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. He literally drew a red line on a cartoon graphic of a bomb to illustrate the point of no return for stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It wasn’t any sort of realistic depiction of a bomb. It was a round bomb with a long, sputtering fuse, straight off a “Stratego” tile:
It was a moment that riveted the attention of the world, and sent a firestorm raging across the Internet, even though “Bibi’s Bomb” was really just a simple visual aid for highlighting the importance of stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions before they can complete the final stage of the uranium enrichment process. Some thought it was a brilliant use of imagery to capture attention, while other observers criticized Netanyahu for using a cartoon to trivialize an important point… but everyone was talking about it.
“Red lines don’t cause wars,” Netanyahu explained. “Red lines prevent war… it’s the failure to place red lines that invites aggression.” He cited the strength of the NATO pact as preventing the Cold War from going hot, and lamented other notable failures throughout history to deter aggression with such absolute commitment.
“By next spring – at most by next summer – at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and moved on to the final stage,” Netanyahu said, to explain the location of his red line. “From there it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.” He estimated the situation would come to a head by “mid-spring, or at the very latest, next summer.”
And the final stages of assembly would be far more difficult to target than the uranium enrichment progress. While expressing great admiration for Israeli’s famed intelligence services, Netanyahu noted that it took them two years to discover Iran was building a massive enrichment plant. “Do we want to risk the security of the world on the assumption that we would find in time a small workshop in a country half the size of Europe?” he asked. It’s interesting that he made a point of describing Iran’s physical size, since President Obama has been known to describe it as “a tiny country.”
The consequences would be dire. Netanyahu spoke at length of Iran’s history of violent aggression, including the brutal suppression of their own internal democratic protests, the aid they have given to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s bloody struggle to retain power, their attacks on American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the murder of American troops in Beirut and Saudi Arabia, their militarization of Lebanon, and the shower of rockets their proxies have sprayed upon Israeli civilians. He wasn’t too thrilled about their support for terrorist attacks across the Western world (including in Washington, D.C.), their Holocaust denial, or their repeated threats to eliminate Israel, either.
“Given this record of Iranian aggression without nuclear weapons, just imagine Iranian aggression with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu urged. He said it would be comparable to arming al-Qaeda with nuclear bombs. And he said it was “a very dangerous assumption” to think Iran could be contained with Mutually Assured Destruction protocols, like those directed at the old Soviet Union, citing Iran’s apocalyptic theology and proclivity for terrorist mayhem.
“For the ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent,” he quoted Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis. “It’s an inducement.” He dismissed the effectiveness of years of diplomacy and economic sanctions for stopping Iran’s nuclear program, since they merely use diplomacy as an opportunity to buy more time to execute their weapons program.
Netanyahu addressed the conflict between tradition and modernization, which so many other world leaders have covered at the U.N. by muttering about imposing limits upon free speech, to cut down on the propagation of “offensive” YouTube videos. “In Israel, the past and the future find common ground,” he said. “But unfortunately, that’s not the case in many other countries. For today, a great battle is being waged between the modern and the medieval.” He noted that the Middle East has become a stark, bloody battleground for this conflict.
He described the forces of medievalism as hungry for a world in which “women and minorities are subjugated, in which knowledge is suppressed, and in which not life, but death, is glorified.” He was proud to declare Israel’s stance with the forces of modernity. “We protect the rights of all our citizens: men and women, Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians… all are equal before the law.” He praised Israel’s creativity, technological innovations, and compassion, noting that Israeli doctors are among the first on the scene to any catastrophe, natural or man-made.
“Every year, thousands of Arabs from the Palestinian territories, and Arabs from throughout the Middle East, come to Israel to be treated by Israeli doctors,” Netanyahu pointed out, then sardonically assured his audience, “I know you’re not gonna hear that in speeches around this podium, but that’s the truth. It’s important that you’re aware of this truth. And it’s because Israel cherishes life that it cherishes peace.”
Referencing the speech previously delivered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in which Abbas accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” Netanyahu made a remarkable deviation from his prepared remarks. “I say to him, and I say to you: we won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the U.N.”
He was unsparing in his identification, and criticism, of “the medieval forces of radical Islam, whom you just saw storming American embassies throughout the Middle East.” He said these forces wanted nothing less than to “end the modern world.”
“Militant Islam has many branches,” Netanyahu explained. “From the rulers of Iran, with their Revolutionary Guards, to al-Qaeda terrorists, to the radical cells lurking in every part of the globe. But despite their differences, they’re all rooted in the same bitter soil of intolerance.” He observed that this intolerance is turned first against Muslims of different sects, and then against every other religion and secular group that “doesn’t submit to their unforgiving creed.”
He was confident that “ultimately they will fail” in this mission, because “light will penetrate the darkness.” The great question is “how many lives will be lost” before fanaticism is defeated.
Netanyahu spoke movingly and convincingly of the long traditions of the Jewish people, and their ancient history in the Middle East. He emphasized Israel’s commitment to both tradition and progress. “Throughout history, we have been at the forefront of efforts to expand liberty, promote equality, and advance human rights. We champion these principles not despite our traditions, but because of them. We heed the words of the Jewish prophets Isaiah, Amos, and Jeremiah, to treat all with dignity and compassion; to pursue justice and cherish life; and to pray and strive for peace. These are the timeless values of my people, and these are the Jewish people’s greatest gifts to mankind. Let us commit ourselves today to defend these values, so that we can defend our freedoms, and protect our common civilization.”