Roger Cohen’s latest opinion column is an off-putting muddle of contempt for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Cohen’s legacy as a public intellectual on the topic of the Middle East has long been mixed; in 2009, he played the useful idiot when he concluded, during a trip to Iran, that the hospitality he received as a Jew there, was a sign that the country was misunderstood. The 25,000 Jews living there (remnants of the once 80,000-strong community) were proof of Iran’s plurality. When the election-rigging regime cracked down on democratic dissidents a few months later, Cohen expressed his support for the demonstrators as they were beaten, silenced, and shot into submission.
Cohen’s latest entry is about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to convince the world that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is the smiling face of a bad regime constitute a diversionary tactic to avoid making peace with the Palestinians. It’s not a new charge and there are plenty of people who’d agree that more could be done to enable the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. The problem here is that Cohen doesn’t seem to think Iran is a threat. And it’s very strange to watch his mind work across the page. Here are five examples of some head-scratchers.
1. “It is not just that the world has now heard from Netanyahu of the imminent danger of a nuclear-armed Iran for a very long time.”
He’s the premier of a country whose very existence is threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. Just because Iran has exercised patience while putting together a nuclear program over the years does not mean it’s not a threat. Apply this argument to global warming and see how it sounds.
2. “It is not just that the Islamic Republic has been an island of stability compared to its neighbors Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
This is bafflingly dumb. Remind me, why Syria and Iraq are unstable again? Or better yet, let Dexter Filkins do it for you.
3. “The real challenge to Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation is the failure to achieve a two-state peace with the Palestinians and the prolongation of a West Bank occupation that leaves Israel overseeing millions of disenfranchised Palestinians.”
No one will dispute that a two-state solution is necessary to Israel’s long-term viability as a Jewish and democratic state. The threat of a nuclear Iran has nothing to do with Israel’s political or religious character. It has to do with Israel’s sentient character as a living, existing country.
4. “Iran has long been an effective distraction from the core dilemma of the Jewish state: Palestine. But global impatience with this diversionary strategy is running high.”
Global impatience with Israel may not be rooted in logic, but yes, it is high. However, even the international community has come together to put together sanctions against Iran because it deems Iran’s nuclear program to be an issue that warrants action.
5. “What Iran has not done is make a bomb or even, in the view of Western intelligence services, decide to do so.”
Were Iran to achieve what’s called ‘breakout capacity’ or, in other words, arrive at that point where it can make a bomb in a matter of weeks, would it really matter if the country hadn’t yet decided to do it? Is that a favorable outcome?