Cuba Libre

The Israeli prime minister mobilized the world to confront Tehran. But the world’s definition of success was not his.

The international agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, which will likely go into effect next week, should count as the crowning diplomatic achievement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The ratification of this deal marks the first time Iran has agreed to radically curtail its previously unregulated nuclear activities, and it would not have happened without Netanyahu.

For more than a decade, he has lobbied, cajoled, and pressured the United States and Europe to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He played by far the largest role in focusing the attention of the great powers on the threat of a nuclear Iran. His single-minded, insistent lobbying, his powerful speechmaking, and his orchestration of a highly potent publicity campaign in Washington, when combined with the presence, in the White House, of a president predisposed to believe that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a profound national-security threat to the U.S. (I am not referring here to George W. Bush), led to the application of crippling, multilateral sanctions on Iran, a sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table. At the negotiating table, Iran’s leaders eventually agreed to a set of limitations and controls on the country’s nuclear program that are quite stringent, and which, if properly implemented, reduce the chance that Israel will find itself the target of an Iranian nuclear weapon for many years to come. And all this was achieved without preventative military strikes that might have delayed, but not prevented, Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Of course, the threat of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities—a threat deemed credible by the Pentagon, by the White House, and by many European leadersalso helped concentrate the world’s attention on the problem, and aided President Barack Obama in his campaign to convince sometimes-balky allies to join in the sanctions regime in order to prevent an Israeli strike.