Whatever you may think of Binyamin Netanyahu, and very few people are neutral on
the subject, there is no denying that though often abrasive and irritating, he
has put the Iranian nuclear program high on the international
Without his stubborn nudging it is fair to assume the intensity
of international pressure on the Islamic Republic would be far weaker than it is
While Netanyahu generated the motivation, he was incapable of
mobilizing the needed pressure. That job fell to Barack Obama. While the two
agreed Iran should not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, they often
disagreed on how to achieve that goal.
But Netanyahu’s relentless focus
on Iran may be as much about deflecting attention from an Israeli-Palestinian
peace process he badly wants to postpone indefinitely as fears an Iranian bomb
could threaten Israel’s existence.
Netanyahu’s brinkmanship and meddling
in the American elections won him no friends in the White House, where the
mistrust between the two leaders obscured the fact that more unites than divides
them on this issue. Obama’s critics question his commitment but much of that is
politically motivated. For better or worse, the president has firmly committed
himself, publicly and privately, to do “whatever it takes” to prevent Iran from
acquiring a bomb and he insists that containment is not
Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has compiled a long list of
“Obama’s crystal clear promises” that should satisfy all but the hardcore Obama
The fear that Netanyahu would willingly go to war to stop, or
even slow down the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons – the Iranians deny they’re
working on a bomb, but few believe them – has galvanized world
Netanyahu’s Wyle E. Coyote cartoon bomb may have been a
juvenile publicity stunt, but it dominated global news coverage of the annual UN
General Assembly meeting. He used that platform to reveal he would not launch a
unilateral attack before the American election and would give the sanctions
until mid-2013 to produce results.
Netanyahu’s ratcheting up the issue in
recent months was widely seen as a transparent attempt to influence the American
presidential election in light of his reputation as a serial meddler in US
politics. But as his preferred candidate, Mitt Romney, began lagging farther and
farther behind, and President Obama, who doesn’t care much for Netanyahu (the
feeling is mutual), began gaining, the prime minister decided to make some
shalom before the election – just in case.
He is reportedly planning to
call new elections in Israel for early next year and his chance of reelection
look pretty good right now. Netanyahu knows two things: a prime minister with a
reputation for being unable to work well with Israel’s most important ally does
not sit well with Israeli voters, and Obama is very likely to be around for
another four years.
There can be little doubt the Iranian nuclear program
is a potential existential threat to Israel and Netanyahu has succeeded in
focusing world attention on it, but does he have another purpose in that fight
as well? Netanyahu has frequently said the Iranian nuclear threat is so
overriding that peace with the Palestinians will not really be possible until it
is solved. He argues that Iran plays such a significant role in anti-Israel
terrorism through its Hamas and Hezbollah allies and others, that any peaceful
resolution of Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not achievable at this
He has some unwitting allies.
The Iranian leadership,
particularly its president, supreme leader and military chiefs, keep reminding
the world of their desire to see “the cancerous tumor” that is the Jewish state
“wiped off the map.” They regularly announce new weapons that can strike any
target in “the Zionist regime,” sink American aircraft carriers and close the
Strait of Hormuz. This weekend the Israel Air Force shot down what it believes
to be an Iranian/Hezbollah drone, possibly seeking to gather intelligence about
Israel’s Dimona nuclear facilities.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
addressed the UN shortly before Netanyahu and accused Israel of ethnic
cleansing, war crimes and trying to “Judaize” Jerusalem, which he called
Palestine’s “eternal capital,” while denying any Jewish connection to the Holy
City and the Temple Mount.
Abbas refuses to resume negotiations without a
total freeze on Israeli construction beyond the 1967 border, including in east
Jerusalem, something Netanyahu is unwilling and politically unable to deliver.
Instead the Palestinian leader is trying to bypass the negotiating table by
going directly to the UN for unilateral recognition.
elections expected early next year, the riskaverse Netanyahu, who never had much
enthusiasm for the peace process to begin with, is unlikely to do anything to
offend his base among nationalists, settlers and the
Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians showed much
more than rhetorical interest in negotiating a real peace, but neither wanted to
be blamed for its demise, so they focused on finger-pointing excuses.
Palestinians had their demand for a freeze, and Netanyahu kept expanding
settlement construction even as he was saying he was ready for unconditional
The Netanyahu government also points to the Fatah- Hamas rivalry
and asks how the Palestinians could make peace with Israel when they can’t even
make peace with each other.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for
terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah dedicated to the destruction of
the Jewish state are seen by prime minister Netanyahu as intertwined and the
reason Israeli- Palestinian peace is not possible until the Islamic Republic
totally halts is nuclear program. That may be merely a convenient excuse to stay
away from the peace table, but the Iranians, their allies and the Palestinians
are his best argument.