Countdown: US elections and the Iranian bomb
PM’s refusal to sit quietly by conveys the impression of a leader who understands that his nation is confronting a dire state of affairs.
Netanyahu, Panetta shake hands Photo: Screenshot
With Iran racing to the nuclear finish line, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
undertook a difficult decision to bring his case before the American people and
then the world. What had previously been a discussion over strategy toward Iran
and “red lines” that occurred mainly in the corridors of power descended onto
Main Street as the leader of Israel began to articulate his country’s position
The political astuteness of this move consists in Netanyahu’s
understanding that regardless of who sits in the White House next year, there is
a strong likelihood that whoever is elected will be faced with the same decision
over how to deal with the specter of a Iranian militant theocracy going
Netanyahu’s diplomatic breach began with his comments of
September 10, implicitly directed at the US administration: “Those who refuse to
set red lines, have no moral right in preventing Israel from setting its
Netanyahu understood the weight of this statement and couched his
position on Iran as a moral one. This in essence turned the issue into one far
greater than a disagreement over policy with a sitting president. With a deep
understanding of America’s political tradition Netanyahu appealed to American
values – not strategic interests – knowing full well that as a Republic, the
ultimate source of power in the US lies with its citizenry.
asking for tangible or material support from the US, Netanyahu played a more
nuanced card and asked for the establishment of “red lines.” The usage of “red
lines” was critical to supply a nuanced but critical critique on the current
US-Israeli joint Iranian strategy. Netanyahu explained sensibly to the American
people and then the UN General Assembly what a serious discussion over Iran
should consist of.
The American people understand more then most nations
the difficult calculus of defending national interests, and the notion of red
lines makes sense to Americans, redoubled by a shared threat perception to a
world with a nuclear Iran.
Here lies Netanyahu’s success; American’s
reaction to Netanyahu’s “red lines” has been by and large one of empathy, not
anger. Recent US domestic polls that point to a 70 percent favorability toward
Israel attest to this positive reaction to Netanyahu’s public
Netanyahu’s approach was not without its critics, however,
both from domestic and international audiences.
It has been a
well-regarded tradition in Israeli governance not to meddle in US elections so
as to not disturb the bipartisan support it has enjoyed for so
NETANYAHU’S REFUSAL to adhere to this political custom is the
greatest indication to the public that time is running out on Iran. Netanyahu’s
refusal to sit quietly by conveys the impression of a leader who understands
that his nation is confronting a dire state of affairs. Tradition in politics is
there to provide guidance, yet history proves that tradition does not trump the
law of necessity.
Given this extraordinary reality, and Netanyahu’s
decision to confront it, now more then ever solidarity need descend on the
Israeli public and coalesce around its leadership as it begins to chart
uncharted waters. This explains why Netanyahu is making moves toward early
elections, seeking greater consensus around his premiership.
to Netanyahu’s public diplomacy, especially during a US election season, was to
be expected and Netanyahu was cautious enough to go on CNN and NBC to clarify
his position to the American people and explain why this untimely divergence
from the Obama administration had occurred.
His further call in the UN
for red lines only punctuated to the American public the urgency that forced the
prime minister to protest in such a loud fashion the week previously. President
Obama may stew, but it was his refusal to provide Israel with a cogent strategy
of cooperation that forced Netanyahu to go rogue.
The president said as
much in his September 23 interview with 60 minutes, dismissing Netanyahu’s
public protest: “When it comes to our national security decisions – any pressure
that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going
to block out – any noise that’s out there.”
By Obama’s own admission,
when it comes to Iran he is purely guided by American interests. Netanyahu is
only reacting in kind; observing an uncooperative US president, he will pursue
other avenues to further Israel’s interest.
Obama made it clear that
beyond his obligation to “consult,” Israeli strategic needs are mere “noise.” It
was precisely this perception that the prime minister’s UN speech, days after
this interview, has forcefully dispelled. Netanyahu re-took the initiative and
declared his own red line.
On Iran, Obama’s administration has
increasingly sounded more and more tone-deaf to the speed of events, seeming
more interested in convincing Israel to stand down than in deterring Iran.
Regarding President Obama’s brinksmanship, he is simply not behaving in a manner
that would deter Iran from moving toward the nuclear finish line. But it is
President Obama’s inability to learn from this failure, together with the late
date on the Iranian time-line, that has created profound doubt in the Netanyahu
Netanyahu’s public diplomacy at this stage, given these dire
circumstances, can therefore be seen as prudence in the face of growing fear
that an Iranian nuke is a fait accompli. For the honest observer, quiet
diplomacy can no longer suffice, and the American people need know about it. Not
because America should prepare to attack, but rather it should prepare for the
day Israel may have to.
Little reminder is needed that Jewish history is
strewn with demagogues who took their demagoguery and turned it into devastating
action against the Jewish people. “Never Again” is too fresh in Jewish memories
to brush aside Iranian genocidal threats and belligerent actions as fleeting and
exaggerated. So what is required at this moment, when Obama would rather sit
with a latenight comedian then with the Israeli prime minister to discuss such
extraordinary matters of international security? Netanyahu’s Churchillian answer
has been unflinching, defiant, unapologetic resolve.
Netanyahu made clear
that if Israel cannot deal effectively with Iran in a joint effort, then
Netanyahu, the elected leader of the Jewish state, will come before the American
citizenry, and after it the world, and plead his case.
Too much is at
stake not to.
Netanyahu’s declaration of his own red lines on the floor
of the UN – no third-stage enrichment – will have dramatic implications for the
future. Israel is now cleared of negligence should it act alone, having put its
friends and allies on notice that there is a storm on the horizon. In this
declaration of Israel’s red lines, Netanyahu has effectively given the Iranian
nuclear clock a countdown that everyone can see.
The writer is the
co-founder of the JNI (Jewish National Initiative).