Who’s the Bad Actor?

Israel is beating Iran and Hezbollah hands down on the "bad activities" front.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during negotiations in March. US Department of State / Flickr

During his brief descent this week upon the island of Cyprus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jumped at the chance to make menacing allegations about the implications of the recent nuclear deal with Iran.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu warned his Cypriot audience that “Iran and Hezbollah organize a terrorist network that covers over thirty countries on five continents, including Europe, just about every country in Europe.”

Seeing as Europe alone comprises nearly fifty countries, the Israeli fearmonger-in-chief could have more professionally tailored his calculations to convey the supposedly existential nature of the threat. After all, if you’re going to make shit up, might as well go all the way.

Largely to blame for the impending Iran- and Hezbollah-based apocalypse, of course, is the United States government, whose leaders — in conceding to conduct civil negotiations with the Islamic Republic — get to play the reasonable and enlightened foils to Netanyahu’s unhinged character.

But in the end, how wide is the rhetoric gap between the Great Satan and its junior partner?

Let’s look at Barack Obama’s post-nuclear deal interview with the cause of many wasted hours of my life: the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman. In it, the president addresses the concerns of unidentified “critics” of the nuclear deal, whose criticisms he paraphrases as follows: “Well, even if the nuclear issue is dealt with, [the Iranians are] still going to be sponsoring terrorism, and they’re going to get this sanctions relief. And so they’re going to have more money to engage in these bad activities.”

Obama continues, now as himself: “That is a possibility, and we are going to have to systematically guard against that and work with our allies — the gulf countries, Israel — to stop the work that [the Iranians] are doing outside of the nuclear program.” Because Iran is behaving in an “unconstructive [and] dangerous way” by, among other things, allowing Hezbollah to accumulate missiles, the president declares himself “prepared to go further than any other administration’s gone before in terms of providing [Israel] additional security assurances from the United States.”

Given the billions of dollars of assurance already provided by the US to Israel on an annual basis, this is generous indeed. But Obama’s pledges conveniently ignore the fact that Israel is beating Iran and Hezbollah hands down on the “bad activities” front — that is, if you consider the recurrent slaughter of civilians a bad thing.

On the Syrian front, meanwhile, a sustained global fuss has been made about extraterritorial activities by Hezbollah, with considerably less attention paid to Israel’s self-granted right to transcend borders at will, most recently via airstrikes on Syria and Lebanon. This is not to mention Israeli collusion with Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, which surely isn’t topping any list of good activities.

In addition to Israel’s bloody track record in the region, other relevant historical details are worth rehashing as well, such as Israeli flirtations with the shah of Iran. In their book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, Israeli journalist Yossi Melman and American journalist Dan Raviv note that “Israeli intelligence trained Savak, the Shah’s brutal secret police and espionage service” and that “Israeli arms manufacturers did a thriving business with Iran.” Most satisfying for lovers of irony, however, is this bit:

Then came Shimon Peres, the defense official — and future prime minister and president of Israel — who was one of the creators of his own nation’s secret nuclear program. Peres offered the Shah nuclear technology and the use of Israel Atomic Energy Commission experts.

The offer was declined, according to Raviv and Melman, because the shah had more important suitors to attend to. Today, Israel’s own extensive nuclear arsenal continues to be one of The Things We Don’t Talk About, while the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is wielded as a sacred weapon against a shah-less Iran.

As for the warning that the current nuclear deal will free up funds for “bad activities” by Hezbollah and other organizations, the US-Israeli monopoly over the discourse means that this tag applies not to close-range massacres of Lebanese children by Israeli helicopters but rather to resistance to just such behavior.

In that case, support for bad activities wouldn’t be such a bad thing.