Cuomo to Netanyahu: Why be so theatrical -- and use English?

Oh, I don’t know … maybe to get everyone’s attention? The need for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gain focus on Iranian lies undergirding the deal signed by Barack Obama and the P5+1 nations has been largely corroborated by the international reaction to the intelligence, to which we’ll return shortly. First, CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked why Netanyahu chose to deliver the presentation in English, a good question which gave the Israeli PM a perfect opportunity to drive home his point:

“So, first let’s talk about how this came about and then we’ll talk about why you think it matters,” Cuomo said in a satellite interview with the Israeli leader from Jerusalem. “This is described as an unusually theatrical display for you and you gave this speech in English. Why give this speech in English and do it in such a big way?”

“Well, because I wanted the world to hear it, all of it. There are only a few million Hebrew speakers and there are a few billion English speakers. So I think that’s why I did it,” Netanyahu responded.

“Look, I would have done it in other places as well, you know that I spoke before the American Congress [in 2015 and 2017] when I thought there was an important message,” he continued.

Cuomo did Netanyahu a favor by asking this, and it was a legit question. Netanyahu deliberately chose English for his presentation, and he did so for the reason he stated — to make sure everyone understood the message. So did they? Wellllllll ….

“The Iran nuclear deal is not based on trust about Iran’s intentions; rather it is based on tough verification, including measures that allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear program,” [UK] Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.

“The fact that Iran conducted sensitive research in secret until 2003 shows why we need the intrusive inspections allowed by the Iran nuclear deal today,” he added in a statement.

“The verification provisions in the Iran nuclear deal would make it harder for Iran to restart any such research. That is another good reason for keeping the deal while building on it in order to take account of the legitimate concerns of the US and our other allies.”

Not even the ancestral home of English apparently grasped the problem with the “verification” revealed by Netanyahu. The deal allowed the Iranians to operate their Fordow facility in an independent fashion only if they completely revealed their previous work. Not only didn’t they do that, but they went out of their way to keep it secret, especially the work done at Fordow.

In the US, former CIA director Michael Hayden said Netanyahu’s presentation filled in some gaps but basically corroborated what the US and Israel had said all along about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It’s too late to rip up the deal, Hayden adds, although he’s concerned about what Iran’s doing too:

“This wasn’t absence of evidence, he this was evidence of absence — that they were no longer working on the … weapons program,” Hayden said. And he recalled that U.S. intelligence had called Iran’s denials that it was working on a weapons program “a lie,” adding, “We always said that although they had stopped this core activity, they kept some other what we called ‘dual-use’ things under way.”

The intelligence community concluded at the time that Iran was “at least keeping the option open” of resuming the construction of a specific weapon.

So, what Netanyahu has, Hayden says, is documentation that “fill[s] in the story that we and the Israelis had already been telling.” …

“Iran is further away from a weapon with this deal than they would be without it,” Hayden told Quijano. “And we know more about the Iranian nuclear program with this deal than we would know without it.” As a result, the former CIA director says he would be “quite concerned” if in early May, “we rip up the deal and walk away from it.”

Let’s get back to the interview for another interesting exchange. Cuomo tried to use the issue of transparency to get Netanyahu on the record about Israel’s nuclear capability. Netanyahu parried by reminding Cuomo that Iran signed an agreement for complete transparency to end sanctions imposed on them. He responds by asking Cuomo wow well the deal worked to head off a nuclear arms race in the region:

He also refused to discuss Israel’s own nuclear capabilities, despite being pressed repeatedly by interviewer Chris Cuomo. “One thing is clear, Israel is not threatening the annihilation of any country,” Netanyahu said.

Instead, he insisted that the Iran deal had prompted other countries to seek nuclear weapons.

“It’s interesting that the nuclear arms race that I predicted would unfold once this deal was signed because everybody knew that they were just kicking the can forward for a few years and as time passes Iran will get a nuclear arsenal,” he added.

“Now you hear other countries in the region saying we want nuclear weapons, too.”

The P5+1 countries didn’t listen to Netanyahu then, and they’re not listening now, not even when Netanyahu delivers the message in plain English and as theatrically as possible. If nothing else, Netanyahu has made that point extremely clear.

Addendum: Give Cuomo credit for making this an interesting and challenging interview, too. He didn’t get rude, even if Cuomo allowed his own skepticism and point of view to exude in a none-too-subtle manner. Netanyahu proved himself a crafty and experienced debater.

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