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Friday, April 14, 2017

Michael Oren: Iran Is a Bigger Threat Than Syria and North Korea Combined





 

Damascus and Pyongyang violated their agreements. Tehran can comply and still threaten millions.


By  Michael Oren

The U.S. has signed agreements with three rogue regimes strictly limiting their unconventional military capacities. Two of those regimes—Syria and North Korea—brazenly violated the agreements, provoking game-changing responses from President Trump. But the third agreement—with Iran—is so inherently flawed that Tehran doesn’t even have to break it. Honoring it will be enough to endanger millions of lives.

The framework agreements with North Korea and Syria, concluded respectively in 1994 and 2013, were similar in many ways. Both recognized that the regimes already possessed weapons of mass destruction or at least the means to produce them. Both assumed that the regimes would surrender their arsenals under an international treaty and open their facilities to inspectors. And both believed that these repressive states, if properly engaged, could be brought into the community of nations.

All those assumptions were wrong. After withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Pyongyang tested five atomic weapons and developed intercontinental missiles capable of carrying them. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, less than a year after signing the framework, reverted to gassing his own people. Bolstered by the inaction of the U.S. and backed by other powers, North Korea and Syria broke their commitments with impunity.

Or so it seemed. By ordering a Tomahawk missile attack on a Syrian air base, and a U.S. Navy strike force to patrol near North Korea’s coast, the Trump administration has upheld the frameworks and placed their violators on notice. This reassertion of power is welcomed by all of America’s allies, Israel among them. But for us, the most dangerous agreement of all is the one that may never need military enforcement. For us, the existential threat looms in a decade, when the agreement with Iran expires.

Like the frameworks with North Korea and Syria, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of 2015 assumed that Iran would fulfill its obligations and open its facilities to inspectors. The JCPOA assumed that Iran would moderate its behavior and join the international community. Yet unlike its North Korean and Syrian allies, Iran was the largest state sponsor of terror and openly vowed to destroy another state—Israel. Unlike them, Iran systematically lied about its unconventional weapons program for 30 years. And unlike Damascus and Pyongyang, which are permanently barred from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Tehran can look forward to building them swiftly and legitimately in the late 2020s, once the JCPOA expires.

This, for Israel and our neighboring Sunni states, is the appalling flaw of the JCPOA. The regime most committed to our destruction has been granted a free pass to develop military nuclear capabilities. Iran could follow the Syrian and North Korean examples and cheat. Or, while enjoying hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it can adhere to the agreement and deactivate parts of its nuclear facilities rather than dismantle them. It can develop new technologies for producing atomic bombs while testing intercontinental ballistic missiles. It can continue massacring Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis, and bankrolling Hamas and Hezbollah. The JCPOA enables Iran to do all that merely by complying.

A nuclear-armed Iran would be as dangerous as “50 North Koreas,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. in 2013, and Iran is certainly many times more dangerous than Syria. Yet Iran alone has been granted immunity for butchering civilians and threatening genocide. Iran alone has been guaranteed a future nuclear capability. And the Iranian regime—which brutally crushed a popular uprising in 2009—has amassed a million-man force to suppress any future opposition. Rather than moderating, the current regime promises to be more radical yet in another 10 years.

How can the U.S. and its allies pre-empt catastrophe? Many steps are possible, but they begin with penalizing Iran for the conventions it already violates, such as U.N. restrictions on missile development. The remaining American sanctions on Iran must stay staunchly in place and Congress must pass further punitive legislation. Above all, a strong link must be established between the JCPOA and Iran’s support for terror, its pledges to annihilate Israel and overthrow pro-American Arab governments, and its complicity in massacres. As long as the ayatollahs oppress their own population and export their tyranny abroad, no restrictions on their nuclear program can ever be allowed to expire.

In responding forcibly to North Korean and Syrian outrages, President Trump has made a major step toward restoring America’s deterrence power. His determination to redress the flaws in the JCPOA and to stand up to Iran will greatly accelerate that process. The U.S., Israel and the world will all be safer.

Mr. Oren is Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy and a Knesset member for the Kulanu Party.

***

My comment:

In his book, “Ally”, Michael Oren wrote:

“Finally, after many months of attentiveness, I reached my conclusion. In the absence of a high-profile provocation – an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier, for example – the United States would not use force against Iran. Rather, the administration would remain committed to diplomatically resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, even at the risk of reaching a deal unacceptable to Israel. And if Israel took matters into its own hands, the White House would keep its distance and offer to defend Israel only if it were counter struck by a hundred thousand Hezbollah missiles.”


Let’s hope that President Trump indeed has the determination to redress the flaws in the JCPOA and to stand up to Iran.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Islam’s Most Eloquent Apostate

 The Wall Street Journal





The West’s obsession with ‘terror’ has been a mistake, she argues. Dawa, the ideology behind it, is a broader threat.

By  TUNKU VARADARAJAN

Stanford, Calif.

The woman sitting opposite me, dressed in a charcoal pantsuit and a duck-egg-blue turtleneck, can’t go anywhere, at any time of day, without a bodyguard. She is soft-spoken and irrepressibly sane, but also—in the eyes of those who would rather cut her throat than listen to what she says—the most dangerous foe of Islamist extremism in the Western world. We are in a secure room at a sprawling university, but the queasiness in my chest takes a while to go away. I’m talking to a woman with multiple fatwas on her head, someone who has a greater chance of meeting a violent end than anyone I’ve met (Salman Rushdie included). And yet she’s wholly poised, spectacles pushed back to rest atop her head like a crown, dignified and smiling under siege.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia in 1969, is Islam’s most eloquent apostate. She has just published a slim book that seeks to add a new four-letter word—dawa—to the West’s vocabulary. It describes the ceaseless, world-wide ideological campaign waged by Islamists as a complement to jihad. It is, she says, the greatest threat facing the West and “could well bring about the end of the European Union as we know it.” America is far from immune, and her book, “The Challenge of Dawa,” is an explicit attempt to persuade the Trump administration to adopt “a comprehensive anti-dawa strategy before it is too late.”

Ms. Hirsi Ali has come a long way from the days when she—“then a bit of a hothead”—declared Islam to be incapable of reform, while also calling on Muslims to convert or abandon religion altogether. That was a contentious decade ago. Today she believes that Islam can indeed be reformed, that it must be reformed, and that it can be reformed only by Muslims themselves—by those whom she calls “Mecca Muslims.” These are the faithful who prefer the gentler version of Islam that she says was “originally promoted by Muhammad” before 622. That was the year he migrated to Medina and the religion took a militant and unlovely ideological turn.

At the same time, Ms. Hirsi Ali—now a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where I also work—is urging the West to look at Islam with new eyes. She says it must be viewed “not just as a religion, but also as a political ideology.” To regard Islam merely as a faith, “as we would Christianity or Buddhism, is to run the risk of ignoring dawa, the activities carried out by Islamists to keep Muslims energized by a campaign to impose Shariah law on all societies—including countries of the West.”

Dawa, Ms. Hirsi Ali explains, is “conducted right under our noses in Europe, and in America. It aims to convert non-Muslims to political Islam and also to push existing Muslims in a more extreme direction.” The ultimate goal is “to destroy the political institutions of a free society and replace them with Shariah.” It is a “never-ending process,” she says, and then checks herself: “It ends when an Islamic utopia is achieved. Shariah everywhere!”

Ms. Hirsi Ali contends that the West has made a colossal mistake by its obsession with “terror” in the years since 9/11. “In focusing only on acts of violence,” she says, “we’ve ignored the Islamist ideology underlying those acts. By not fighting a war of ideas against political Islam—or ‘Islamism’—and against those who spread that ideology in our midst, we’ve committed a blunder.”

There is a knock on the door. I hear hushed voices outside, presumably her bodyguard telling someone to come back later. To add to the mildly dramatic effect, a siren is audible somewhere in the distance, unusual for the serene Stanford campus. Ms. Hirsi Ali is unfazed. “What the Islamists call jihad,” she continues, “is what we call terrorism, and our preoccupation with it is, I think, a form of overconfidence. ‘Terrorism is the way of the weak,’ we tell ourselves, ‘and if we can just take out the leaders and bring down al Qaeda or ISIS, then surely the followers will stop their jihad.’ But we’re wrong. Every time Western leaders take down a particular organization, you see a different one emerge, or the same one take on a different shape. And that’s because we’ve been ignoring dawa.”

Ms. Hirsi Ali wants us to get away from this game of jihadi Whac-A-Mole and confront “the enemy that is in plain sight—the activists, the Islamists, who have access to all the Western institutions of socialization.” She chuckles here: “That’s a horrible phrase . . . ‘institutions of socialization’ . . . but they’re there, in families, in schools, in universities, prisons, in the military as chaplains. And we can’t allow them to pursue their aims unchecked.”

America needs to be on full alert against political Islam because “its program is fundamentally incompatible with the U.S. Constitution”—with religious pluralism, the equality of men and women, and other fundamental rights, including the toleration of different sexual orientations. “When we say the Islamists are homophobic,” she observes, “we don’t mean that they don’t like gay marriage. We mean that they want gays put to death.”

Islam the religion, in Ms. Hirsi Ali’s view, is a Trojan horse that conceals Islamism the political movement. Since dawa is, ostensibly, a religious missionary activity, its proponents “enjoy a much greater protection by the law in free societies than Marxists or fascists did in the past.” Ms. Hirsi Ali is not afraid to call these groups out. Her book names five including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which asserts—and in turn receives in the mainstream media—the status of a moderate Muslim organization. But groups like CAIR, Ms. Hirsi Ali says, “take advantage of the focus on ‘inclusiveness’ by progressive political bodies in democratic societies, and then force these societies to bow to Islamist demands in the name of peaceful coexistence.”

Her strategy to fight dawa evokes several parallels with the Western historical experience of radical Marxism and the Cold War. Islamism has the help of “useful idiots”—Lenin’s phrase—such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has denounced Ms. Hirsi Ali as an “extremist.” She sees that smear as a success for dawa: “They go to people like the SPLC and say, ‘Can we partner with you, because we also want to talk about what you guys talk about, which is civil rights. And Muslims are a minority, just like you.’ So, they play this victim card, and the SPLC swallows it. And it’s not just them, it’s also the ACLU. The Islamists are infiltrating all these institutions that were historic and fought for rights. It’s a liberal blind spot.”

Western liberals, she says, are also complicit in an Islamist cultural segregation. She recalls a multiculturalist catchphrase from her years as a Somali refugee in Amsterdam in the early 1990s: “ ‘Integrate with your own identity,’ they used to tell us—Integratie met eigen identiteit. Of course, that resulted in no integration at all.”

Ms. Hirsi Ali wants the Trump administration—and the West more broadly—to counter the dawa brigade “just as we countered both the Red Army and the ideology of communism in the Cold War.” She is alarmed by the ease with which, as she sees it, “the agents of dawa hide behind constitutional protections they themselves would dismantle were they in power.” She invokes Karl Popper, the great Austrian-British philosopher who wrote of “the paradox of tolerance.” Her book quotes Popper writing in 1945: “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

I ask Ms. Hirsi Ali what her solution might be, and she leans once more on Popper, who proposed a right not to tolerate the intolerant. “Congress must give the president—this year, because there’s no time to lose—the tools he needs to dismantle the infrastructure of dawa in the U.S.” Dawa has become an existential menace to the West, she adds, because its practitioners are “working overtime to prevent the assimilation of Muslims into Western societies. It is assimilation versus dawa. There is a notion of ‘cocooning,’ by which Islamists tell Muslim families to cocoon their children from Western society. This can’t be allowed to happen.”

Is Ms. Hirsi Ali proposing to give Washington enhanced powers to supervise parenting? “Yes,” she says. “We want these children to be exposed to critical thinking, freedom, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the rights of women.” She also suggests subjecting immigrants and refugees to ideological scrutiny, so as to deny entry, residence and naturalization to those “involved with, or supportive of, Islamism.”

In effect, Ms. Hirsi Ali would modernize the “communism test” that still applies to those seeking naturalization. “I had to answer questions when I applied for citizenship in 2013: ‘Are you, or have you ever been, a communist?’ And I remember thinking, ‘God, that was the war back then. We’re supposed to update this stuff!’ Potential immigrants from Pakistan or Bangladesh, for instance, should have to answer questions—‘Are you a member of the Jamat?’ and so on. If they’re from the Middle East you ask them about the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘or any other similar group,’ so there’s no loophole.”

Might critics deride this as 21st-century McCarthyism? “That’s just a display of intellectual laziness,” Ms. Hirsi Ali replies. “We’re dealing here with a lethal ideological movement and all we are using is surveillance and military means? We have to grasp the gravity of dawa. Jihad is an extension of dawa. For some, in fact, it is dawa by other means.”

The U.S., she believes, is in a “much weaker position to combat the various forms of nonviolent extremism known as dawa because of the way that the courts have interpreted the First Amendment”—a situation where American exceptionalism turns into what she calls an “exceptional handicap.” Convincing Americans of this may be the hardest part of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s campaign, and she knows it. Yet she asks whether the judicial attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s—themselves a reaction to the excesses of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s—might have left the U.S. ill-equipped to suppress threats from groups that act in the name of religion.

I ask Ms. Hirsi Ali if there’s any one thing she would wish for. “I would like to be present at a conversation between Popper and Muhammad,” she says. “Popper wrote about open society and its enemies, and subjected everyone from Plato to Marx to his critical scrutiny. I’d have liked him to subject Muhammad’s legacy to the same analysis.

“But he skipped Muhammad, alas. He skipped Muhammad.”
Mr. Varadarajan is a research fellow in journalism at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
***



A quote from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book, "The Challenge of Dawa", on immigration:

“The administration, through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), should subject immigrants and refugees to ideological scrutiny, as happened during the Cold War.

 Individuals requesting temporary entry to the United States, permanent residency, or citizenship must be asked about their commitment to Islamism and related concepts such as the death penalty for apostasy and support for sharia law and the subjugation of women. If individuals are found to have lied in their immigration or citizenship applications about their commitment to the US Constitution by engaging in subversive dawa activities after establishing residency, their residency or citizenship must be revoked."

I hope President Trump takes note that the emphasis is on ideological scrutiny.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Vetting for ideology






So if he says these are the seven countries that I am going to impose a temporary travel ban on until we have sorted out a vetting system, and that is vetting for ideology, then I don’t see any problem with that 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dutch go to the polls on Wednesday, March 15


You look at the BBC today and you can't believe that George Orwell once worked there.


FRONTPAGE.MAG

It's tough to be Moroccan in the Netherlands. Just ask the BBC.



From the moment it became clear that the ongoing Islamization of the Western world was a potential disaster of historic proportions, the mainstream media – in their perverse effort to defend the indefensible and keep the cart careening downhill – have been making use of shameless sentiment to overcome the plain facts. One of the first examples of this practice that I can recall was way back in 2003, when the big, bad Norwegian government put resident terrorist Mullah Krekar through the first of what would turn out to be many deportation scares. Since Krekar, back in his homeland of Iraq, had been responsible for the violent deaths of innumerable innocents – children included – it wasn't an easy proposition to try to whip up sympathy for him (although, heaven knows, some media tried).
Instead, many reporters chose the family angle: Krekar might be a bad guy, but what about his poor wife and kids? Repeatedly, the papers ran tearful close-ups of Krekar's wife and pictures of her and Krekar embracing. VGran a whole story about the intelligence services' confiscation of her beloved cookbook, which had been in the family for generations and which contained the recipes of all of Krekar's favorite foods. Dagbladet, for its part, ran a report whose headline told us that when Krekar's kids heard on TV that Daddy had been released from custody and was headed home, they kissed the TV screen. It was Dagbladet, too, that published one of the great sob stories of all time. The headline: “My children are waiting every single day to hear from Papa.” The first sentences: “Mullah Krekar's wife (39) is scared. For her four children, and for the future.”
And so on. You get the idea. If you're trying to obscure the truth, defend the indefensible, and smear the good guys, go for sheer, unadulterated bathos. So it is that as the clock ticks down to the March 15 parliamentary elections in the Netherlands (which, as it happens, I write about in this week's National Review), Anna Holligan of the BBC – in an effort to paint Geert Wilders, head of the Freedom Party (PVV), as a racist hatemonger – kicked off a March 7 article from The Hague by focusing on one of the Dutch Moroccans whom Wilders, as she put it, had “accused...of making the streets unsafe.” Needless to say, Holligan didn't talk to one of the majority of Dutch Moroccan males who have dropped out of school and are living on social welfare benefits; nor did she buttonhole one of the nearly 50% of young Dutch Moroccan males who have rap sheets.
No: she talked to a young lady named Hafsa Mahraoui, who, in “trendy black trainers and matching hijab,” is “the quintessential image of modern Muslim woman.” (Yes, nothing says “modern” like a hijab.) Mahraoui, Holligan reported, thinks of herself as “a true Amsterdam girl.” But life has been tough for her lately: “the tone of the campaign” has brought her down. “They say Islam isn't normal, it doesn't belong in Dutch society, and that being hijabi means I am an oppressed person,” Mahraoui lamented. “It's tiring because we are always in the spotlight and you have to defend yourself.” As if all this weren't terrible enough, Mahraoui complained – and she clearly meant this to be understood as an example of the way Dutch people treat Muslims – that her headscarf had been “ripped off just after the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh.” Supposedly, the memory still makes her shudder. Not the memory of the murder, mind you: the memory – the more than twelve-year-old memory – of having her headscarf yanked off.
Thus does the murder of Theo van Gogh become a passing reference in a story about Dutch people purportedly making life tough for Muslims.
Never mind the murder itself, which happened on a busy Amsterdam street and was committed by one Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-born man of Moroccan parentage who, before the murder, had been considered by friends and acquaintances to be a fully integrated member of Dutch society. (Indeed, he might well have described himself as “a true Amsterdam boy.”) Yes, it's regrettable that somebody (allegedly) yanked off Mahraoui's headscarf. But it's quite a bit more regrettable that, simply because Theo van Gogh had released a short film drawing attention to the systematic oppression and brutal abuse of women under Islam, Bouyeri, who had been born and bred in the Netherlands, was moved to shoot him eight times, slit his throat in an attempt to decapitate him, stab him in the chest, and then used a second knife to pin to his chest an open letter addressed to van Gogh's film collaborator, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The letter praised Allah and Muhammed, quoted extensively from the Koran, and concluded: “I know for sure, O America, you will go down. I know for sure, O Europe, you will go down. I know for sure, O Holland, you will go down. I know for sure, O Hirsi Ali, you will go down. I know for sure, O unbelieving fundamentalist, you will go down.”
It is the murder of Theo van Gogh, and not some random act of hijab-pulling, that is the ultimate emblematic act of the Netherlands in our time. But you'd never know it to read the BBC or other major Western media.
If Holligan had been more honest – and braver – she wouldn't have presented, as if it were unassailable truth, Hafsa Mahraouri's view of Dutch people as hijab-pulling bigots and of Dutch Moroccans as innocent victims of their prejudice. She would instead – or, at least, in addition – have spoken with somebody like 57-year-old Salman Ezzammoury, a Muslim apostate who immigrated to the Netherlands from Morocco at the age of 23 and who, in a recent interview, painted  a picture of the Dutch that is the exact opposite of Hafsa's. Ezzammoury considers the Netherlands prachtig – a word that can be translated as “splendid,” “magnificent,” “exquisite,” “wonderful” – and regards the Dutch as “tolerant and kind.” The only people in his orbit who aren't tolerant and kind are – guess who? – his Muslim neighbors. Raised (as he puts it) to see all non-Muslims as enemies who must be killed, Dutch Muslims deliberately isolate themselves from Dutch society – while the Dutch, in their naivete, provide them every opportunity to spread their “evil” ideas. What does Ezzammoury think of Geert Wilders? Well, said Ezzamoury, “he shouts a little too much,” and he's a conservative, whereas Ezzammoury himself is a man of the left – but at bottom, he pronounced, he and Wilders share “the selfsame ideology.”
So who interviewed this courageous gentleman, this former Muslim who's knowledgeable – and refreshingly forthright – about both Islam and the Dutch? The New York Times? The Guardian? CNN? Guess again: his interview appeared in a local newspaper in Barneveld, a town of 30,000 in the largely rural province of Gelderland. Laurent Obertone made the point about his own country, France, in his 2013 book La France Orange Mécanique,and it holds true for many other countries as well, the Netherlands included: when you want to know the facts about the dread impact of Islam on the West, don't bother looking in major national media; go to the regional press, where obscure, underpaid reporters who don't belong to the politically correct elite will give you glimpses of the truth that their big-time, big-city colleagues – people like the BBC's Anna Holligan – do their best to keep out of the public eye.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

ANALYSIS: NETANYAHU PUTTING IRAN ON TOP, AGAIN





At a memorial service in the Foreign Ministry this week marking the 25th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people, Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to put the Islamic Republic back on the international agenda.

rvice in the Foreign Ministry this week marking the 25th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made one remark that goes a long way toward explaining what is driving his diplomatic agenda.

“One of our security agencies estimates that over 80% of Israel’s fundamental security problems stem from Iran,” he said.

Iran, and not the Palestinians. Iran, and no other. Hezbollah, for instance, stems from Iran.

And this assessment is why the Palestinians, indeed the whole issue of the West Bank and a diplomatic process, are taking a back seat in his mind.

Following Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, there were all kinds of expectations on the Right – including among most Likud MKs – that Netanyahu would push hard for the new president to carry out his campaign pledge to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and that he would work hard to get the Americans to alter their reflexively negative stance toward settlement construction.

He hasn’t.

Regarding the embassy issue, one senior Likud official said that the person who is keeping that issue somewhat alive in Washington – although much of the momentum has been lost – is Sheldon Adelson.

And, the official continued, Netanyahu is opposed to moves within his own party to support a bill that would annex Ma’aleh Adumim. The reason: It would not significantly have that much of an impact, and it would deflect attention from Iran, the major source of Israel’s security concerns.

Netanyahu has turned a deaf ear to the arguments that the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim would significantly change the conversation regarding a final deal with the Palestinians; that it would strengthen Israel’s grip on Jerusalem; and that it would show that Israel is no longer just going to sit around and wait for the Palestinians to agree to come around and negotiate.

One of the reasons Netanyahu is opposed, the senior Likud official said, is that he doesn’t want anything to hurt his ability to get Washington to focus on Iran. Despite the premier’s opposition, however, Bayit Yehudi and Likud MKs may very well push the bill through the Knesset, just as was done with the Settlements Regulation Law, legalizing a number of outposts.

Iran, not the settlements or the Palestinians, is the diplomatic issue at the forefront of Netanyahu’s mind. He has said in private meetings in recent weeks that there is now a much less forgiving attitude in Washington toward Iran, and that this could be harnessed to moving other countries to take a much more hardline approach toward the Islamic Republic – not necessarily to cancel the Iranian nuclear deal, but at least to check Tehran’s aggressive and destabilizing behavior in the region.

Netanyahu believes there is a different approach to Iran now in Washington, and also to some degree in Britain. Even Australia – which has been keen on normalizing relations with Iran, partly in the hope that it will then take back a few thousand Iranian refugees knocking on its doors – made some murmurings in the direction of checking Iran’s regional moves during Netanyahu’s recent visit to Sydney.

The day after Trump was inaugurated in January, Netanyahu posted a video on Facebook. What was telling about the video was that it did not deal with the Palestinians or the settlements, but with Iran.

Once the Iranian nuclear deal was finally passed in the summer of 2015, Netanyahu took a much lower public profile on Iran. He fought US president Barack Obama intensely over the deal, but when it was not held up by Congress, Netanyahu’s tactic changed from trying to block it, to quietly working with the US to ensure that Iran lived by its commitments under it.

That lower profile on Iran ended the day Trump came into office. From that moment, Netanyahu pursued a policy of again trying to shine the limelight on Iran. It started with that first Facebook video, and has continued unabated for the last two months in various speech and public statements he has made.

“Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, advancing its ballistic missile program in defiance of Security Council resolutions and sowing instability in the region surrounding us. The regime in Tehran aspires to plant its flag atop the ruins of the free world. It continues to threaten to annihilate Israel,” he said at the Foreign Ministry memorial ceremony for those killed in the embassy blast in Argentina.

“We will not back down. We will continue to build up our strength. Since the attack in Argentina, Israel has become much more powerful. We have become a global leader in intelligence, counter-terrorism and cyber. We have armed ourselves with first-rate weapons systems and flight systems, the best in the world.

Israel has become a great force, and this force mobilizes others to challenge the threat posed by Iran. We will continue to decisively confront the aggression of Iran and its proxies,” he continued.

While this may sound like more of the same old, tired rhetoric against Iran, it should not be summarily dismissed, because it is a fair gauge of what is propelling Netanyahu’s diplomatic agenda.

His critics will say that he is again raising the Iranian threat to distract from his domestic political woes stemming from the various police investigations against him. But to hear the prime minister speak, the threat of Iran is very real.

The threat, however, has shifted. When he speaks of Iran now, it is no longer of a concern that the country will immediately make a dash and reach a point where it has the wherewithal to create a nuclear bomb. The nuclear deal has moved the immediacy of that threat from a few months to between 10 and 15 years. Or, as he told his Australian hosts during meetings in Sydney two weeks ago, “The nuclear deal ensures no bomb today, but a hundred a decade from now.”

Now Jerusalem’s concern has to do with Iranian designs in Syria – the reason the prime minister flew Thursday for a day to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu told the cabinet this week that the efforts to formulate an agreement in Syria will be at the center of his conversation with Putin.

As the UN-led Syria peace talks are proceeding, Iran – Netanyahu said – is trying to establish itself permanently in Syria within the context of a possible overall agreement. He said it is trying to establish a military presence on the ground and at sea, and also gradually trying to open a front against Israel on the Golan Heights.

One senior diplomatic official said that Iran is looking already to “formalize agreements” with Syrian President Bashar Assad – who owes his survival in no small degree to Tehran – that will grant concessions to Iran inside Syria.

Everything that enlarges Iran’s footprint inside Syria is very troublesome to Israel, the senior diplomatic official said, because it brings Iran directly to Israel’s doorstep. And this time not as a proxy – like Hezbollah – but as Iran: its own army, its own navy.

Netanyahu traveled to Moscow on Thursday – accompanied by the head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi – to raise the alarm with Putin. For if Assad owes his survival in part to Iran, he owes an even bigger debt to Russia, which actively intervened in the war in his behalf in the fall of 2015, effectively changing the tide of the battle. In Jerusalem’s view, Russia’s voice will be critical in shaping the terms of any deal in Syria, and Netanyahu wants to ensure that Putin knows clearly that Israel is completely and unequivocally opposed to any permanent Iranian presence in Syria.

This, for Netanyahu, is now his top diplomatic priority – far outpacing the Palestinian issue. Because, as he said at the Foreign Ministry, Iran is responsible for 80% of Israel’s security problems.