A great presentation? Telling the world something it already knew? A Prime Minister firming up his support at home? Or Bibi making an ass of himself?

 
All of the above?
 
It depends on what you heard and what you read.
 
It's widely viewed as an intelligence achievement, but maybe more negative in revealing Israel's assets than in producing a smoking gun.
 
For some time before the event, Israeli viewers were warmed by the announcements of a major revelation, and what would be a game changer in the international posture toward Iran.
 
Bibi came on the stage, as advertised,ten minutes into prime time news, after media personalities had speculated about what he would reveal.
 
It was Bibi as showman, more grand than his speech in the UN showing a cartoon figure of Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon.
 
He began in Hebrew, telling the Israeli audience that he would switch to English in order to communicate directly with the international audience.
 
Locals more comfortable in God's language could read a prepared translation across the bottom of the screen.
 
He pulled back curtains showing file folders and computer diskettes with secret Iranian materials.
 
The big print on a screen behind him said "Iran lies."  There were clips of several Iranian leaders indicating that their country had no intention of producing weapons of mass destruction, which they asserted were immoral in Islam.
 
Bibi showed pictures, with translations, of Iranian documents indicating their intentions and progress toward nuclear weapons.
 
The problem: almost all was from the period before Iran signed the agreement promising to end its nuclear program, at least for a number of years.
 
When the great speech was over, Israeli commentators were quick to praise Israeli intelligence for getting to the heart of Iranian secret material, and bringing much of it to Israel.
 
But they also said that there was nothing new in what Netanyahu had revealed. The documents were already known to the UN agency with responsibility for monitoring nuclear activities. Much of it may be available from UN sources on the Internet.
 
And there was no smoking gun depicting what Iran continued to do after signing the agreement.
 
It was in English, according to one observer, as part of Bibi's ploy to improve his position in Israel. He was showing his skill in making a convincing and attractive case in English, and so the voters should keep him in office despite what the police and prosecutors were doing, that could send him, and maybe his wife, to jail.
 
Others said that the material was a long way from what would convince the leaders of Britain, France, or Germany to go along with Donald Trump in renouncing the existing agreement
 
A European said that there was nothing in the presentation that was not known 20 years ago. An Israeli insisted that there were some new and important details.
 
One of the overseas nasties described the speech as childish. Another said that it was a poor imitation of how Apple puts on a show to display a new IPhone.
 
One of the more friendly Israeli responses was that Netanyahu did not reveal anything new, but that he might remove the smile from Iran's face. A more forceful comment predicted embarrassment in Iran, along with ridicule of the establishment among opponents, and a concern about sanctions that would worsen an economy already shaking.
 
Commentators asked if the speech would push Trump to pull out of the Iran deal, or whether the President's threats to do so are examples of his negotiating bluster, likely to be downsized or even forgotten when it comes to a decision.
 
The immediate background of the speech might also be relevant. Earlier in the day were pictures of a major missile strike on Iranian munitions in Syria. By some reports, the primary and secondary explosions were great enough to show themselves on seismic detectors a long way from the site of the event. Israel was not taking credit for the attack. Some traced it to Americans or to rebels against the Assad regime. Speculation was that it was only Israel with the capacity and incentive to do such a thing.
 
So was Bibi's speech an effort to justify what Israel was doing, once again, in destroying Iranian assets in Syria? Was it meant to shift public attention, and maybe put Iran on the defensive?
 
Does the value of net new revelations, if there were any, justify what may be the loss of Israel's intelligence assets in Iran, the torture and death of who knows how many individuals suspected of working with Israel?
 
Are we left with Bibi's headline, that "Iran lies?"
 
If so, what politician does not lie?
 
And what is Bibi's reputation with respect to telling the truth, or doing what he promises?
 
We needn't cheer Bibi's speech to agree with him that the existing agreement with Iran is flawed. Perhaps it has served to stop continuing Iranian work on nuclear weapons, but it's limited in time, and does not deal with Iran's heavy investments in long range missiles, or its support of terror operating against Israel, Sunni Muslims, and western countries. While numerous heads of state have shied away from doing away with the existing treaty, there seems to be support for threatening severe sanctions if agreements concerning these lacunae are not developed and agreed upon.
 
Lots of questions.
 
Don't expect clear answers.
 
Comments welcome


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


irashark@gmail.com 

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