Netanyahu’s “Red Lines” Are Unacceptable

Defining limits for Iran’s nuclear program wouldn’t reduce the chance of war at all.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel talks with President Barack Obama of the United States in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington DC, March 5
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel talks with President Barack Obama of the United States in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington DC, March 5 (White House/Pete Souza)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been putting pressure on the Obama Administration in recent weeks to delineate the extent to which Iran’s suspected attempt to build a nuclear weapon can progress before the allies launch military action, arguing that it would work to “reduce the chances of the need” for it. The opposite is true.

Netanyahu made his case last Tuesday when he said that those “who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel” to strike unilaterally.

The world tells Israel, ‘Wait, There’s still time.’ And I say: ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’

But just as Israel is not expected to “delegate the job of stopping Iran, if all else fails, to someone else,” as Netanyahu put it on Sunday, the United States cannot be held hostage to a set of predefined conditions, presumably communicated in tandem with the Israelis.

President Barack Obama has, in fact, set a red line when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March that he did not have a policy of “containment.”

I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Further reducing the extent to which Iranian nuclear development is allowed to progress would inhibit American diplomatic efforts and put Iran in control of the situation. If Western powers communicate a “red line” to Iran, the Islamic republic is assured that it is safe up to a point and, if it seeks a nuclear weapons capacity, able to advance up to that point while preparing for airstrikes.

Netanyahu’s frustration is understandable. The economic sanctions against Iran, which the United States argue should be given more time to work, do not appear to have deterred the country from pushing ahead. Indeed, James Clapper, America’s director of national intelligence, told Congress early this year that the sanctions had no effect in slowing down the nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in August that the program has actually accelerated. Negotiations between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and Iran have gone nowhere. American policy appears to be failing. But the alternative offered by the Israeli prime minister is unacceptable.