On Tuesday, just before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took the UN podium and
declared Israel would act alone against Iran if need be, Iranian Foreign
Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif called him the “most isolated man in the UN.”
Zarif was dreaming.
Netanyahu was not isolated in the UN, and Israel –
despite what we often tell ourselves, with classic Jewish mistrust – is not
isolated in the world. Do not mistake the publication of EU settlement
guidelines barring European cooperation with Israeli entities beyond the
pre-1967 lines, or a failed, high profile BDS campaign to get aging hip-swinger
Tom Jones to cancel a trip to Israel, with international isolation.
leader of an isolated nation does not spend some seven hours in Washington – in
the middle of the storm over the federal government’s shutdown – in tête-à-têtes
with the US president, vice president and secretary of state, as Netanyahu did
An isolated country does not attract a $130 million investment in
one of its main universities from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing – the eighth
richest man in the world – who then says of Israel that it is not a small
country, but a state with an “overflowing spring of knowledge and ability; a
riveting place that provides unlimited opportunities.”
Iran should be so isolated.
And, though this may sound contradictory in
light of Netanyahu’s declaration in his Tuesday address to the UN General
Assembly that Israel will act alone against Iran if need be, Israel is not
isolated in its skeptical-in-the-extreme view of Iranian President Hassan
Rouhani’s charm and smiles campaign.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that
some two months ago, Israel was approached by a key Western country with the
request that it keep banging the Iranian drum loudly to keep the issue alive at
a time when it was being pushed off the agenda because of Rouhani’s
“moderation,” as well as the dramatic and traumatic events first in Egypt, then
Also, toward the end of Netanyahu’s 33-minute speech on
Tuesday, he made a comment that sent perceptive ears ringing.
dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region
have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel
is not their enemy,” he said.
“And this affords us the opportunity to
overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships,
The next night, Channel 2’s Udi Segal reported that in recent
weeks, there has been a series of secret and intensive meetings between Israel
and senior representatives from the Persian Gulf, to coordinate steps regarding
Iran’s new diplomatic offensive.
Many in the West – the US and Europe –
and many more in the Persian Gulf liked the tough line they heard from Netanyahu
at the UN, though they can’t publicly admit it for various reasons.
in US President Barack Obama’s administration and in select European capitals
liked it because with Israel still threatening military action against Iran,
they have retained a big stick when they begin speaking softly to the Iranians
on October 15-16 in Geneva.
A credible military threat is what recently
brought the Syrians, with Russia’s urging, to agree to dismantle its chemical
weapons program. Obama’s handling of that Syrian crisis – as well as his
diplomatic overtures to the Iranians – have removed for the time being a
credible US military threat against Iran. So it is good to still have a real
Israeli threat in the room to move the Iranians. It is also likely that this
good-cop, bad-cop division of labor was discussed when Obama and Netanyahu met
in the White House on Monday.
The time the prime minister and the US
president spent talking face-to-face was surely not wasted discussing whether
Rouhani could or could not be trusted. The two sides certainly know where the
other stands on that issue. In such high-level meetings, time is not exhausted
on well-known positions.
Rather, what generally happens is that a common
goal is defined, and the tactics for reaching that goal are hashed out – who
does what, who says what.
Both the US and Israel share the goal of
keeping Iran from a bomb. The question is how to do it? A day after the White
House meeting, the world got a peek at Israel’s role.
“I want there to be
no confusion on this point,” Netanyahu said in his speech. “Israel will not
allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel
will stand alone.”
Another partner who surely applauded Netanyahu’s tough
words, though they would never admit it, are the Persian Gulf states, which are
extremely concerned about the possibility of a nuclear Iran. Netanyahu set the
Iranians on notice that he was speaking on behalf of these countries as well,
when he said that if Israel stood alone, it “will know that we will be defending
many, many others.”
Even as Netanyahu was clearly getting his message
across to the Iranians, on a strictly hasbara level of making Israel’s case to
as wide an audience as possible, the speech was a failure.
public diplomacy practitioners will tell you that the key to getting Israel’s
message across – especially when dealing with a North American audience – is to
keep it hopeful, upbeat and optimistic.
Don’t say there will never be
peace, even if you believe it, because the North American audience always wants
to hold out hope for a peaceful resolution. Be conciliatory, not aggressive; be
empathetic, not sarcastic; and by all means keep God and Jewish historical
tragedies out of the mix. God-talk gets many Americans nervous, and people are
tired of hearing about Jewish suffering.
The prime minister, who knows
the rules of hasbara very well, broke them all in his speech.
warned of military action against Iran, not peace. He held out no hope that
Rouhani was sincere in his “moderation.”
He was sarcastic, not
He was – as many media outlets reported – aggressive, not
conciliatory. And not only did Netanyahu bring God into the picture by quoting
from Amos’s prophecy about the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of
ruined cities and planting of new vineyards, but he also mentioned Jewish
suffering with the tale of his grandfather beaten senseless by anti-Semites in
None of that, predictably, played overly well in the
mainstream American media.
The New York Times excoriated him for tying to
sabotage the talks (the same New York Times which Netanyahu directly criticized
in his speech by quoting from an editorial it ran in favor of diplomacy with
North Korea in 2005, just a year before Pyongyang detonated a nuclear devise,
showing just how much it had duped the world and the paper’s editorial
And Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary and
current MSNBC analyst, said: “I don’t think Israel helps itself [with] some of
the rhetoric that you heard from the prime minister.” Gibbs said the speech was
“addressed to the Israeli public,” and that Israel “did not help itself with
Netanyahu’s statement, especially that the world has forgotten what happened in
the 20th century.”
But this speech was not addressed to the Israeli
public. The Israeli public already knows what Netanyahu told the world about
Iran’s duplicity. It was aimed at Iran and those negotiating with
Since Iran started developing its nuclear weapons program some
three decades ago, a lot more has been going on beneath the water than above the
surface – like in some high-stakes water polo match.
Below the water, the
Iranians, as Netanyahu pointed out in his UN speech, were building secret
nuclear facilities at Natanz and Fordow. On the surface, they pledged allegiance
to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and cooperated with the International Atomic
Below the water, the West – including, but not relegated,
to Israel – were taking actions to prevent the specter of an armed Iranian
regime. On the surface sanctions were applied, a few scientists were
assassinated, computer worms sent centrifuges spinning out of control and straw
companies were set up worldwide selling the Iranians faulty equipment. Again,
all those steps took place on the surface and were things the public knew about.
Beneath the surface, much more was, and is, taking place to keep the Iranians
from becoming what they hoped to be by now: the world’s 10th nuclear armed
So too a lot more then met the eye was taking place during
Netanyahu’s visit to the US and speech at the UN. On the surface, it looked
simply like Israel squaring off alone against the world. Below the surface, it
was Israel playing its tactical role in a complex chess game to get Iran to stop
its nuclear march through diplomacy.
In April of this year, The
Washington Post editorialized that despite a breakdown in talks that month
between the world powers and Iran, neither the US nor Israel was under pressure
to consider immediate military action. The proponents of more diplomacy, the
paper wrote, can thank Netanyahu, a man “they have often ridiculed or reviled.”
Netanyahu’s explicit setting of a “red line” appears to have accomplished what
neither negotiations nor sanctions have yielded: concrete Iranian action to
limit its enrichment, the paper wrote.
“A host of commentators, both in
the United States and Israel, scoffed at what they called Mr. Netanyahu’s
‘cartoonish’ picture of a bomb and the line he drew across it,” The Washington
“Iran, too, dismissed what its UN ambassador called
‘an unfounded and imaginary graph.’ But then a funny thing happened: The regime
began diverting more of its stockpile to the manufacture of fuel plates for a
In other words, Netanyahu got Iran’s attention at that
time. Chances are he got its attention this time as well, though – like then –
to do so he paid a public diplomacy price in coming across as overly
Sometimes, however, it is necessary to pay a price in hasbara
for a greater strategic goal.
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