For Bibi, Iran is the gift that never stops giving - analysis

As the election enters its final week, it is hard to miss Netanyahu’s signs of distress, particularly since he has been so blunt about it.

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September 9, 2019 22:46
4 minute read.
For Bibi, Iran is the gift that never stops giving - analysis

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political life is best compared to the biblical burning bush: he may be on fire, but is not consumed by the flames.

As the election enters its final week, it is hard to miss Netanyahu’s signs of distress, particularly since he has
been so blunt about it.

In a number of Facebook videos, Netanyahu has spoken of possible loss. Just Sunday night, he warned, and not for the first time, that political rival Blue and White Party co-leader Benny Gantz could emerge victorious on election day.
“At this moment, we are losing,” Netanyahu said. “We are neck-and-neck with Gantz and [his political partner Yair] Lapid. In some polls they have surpassed us. We need 61 mandates [to form a government] and we don’t have them,” he said.

At best, Netanyahu explained, his party could put together a right-wing bloc of 56 or 57 Knesset seats.
The next morning, as a sign of how weak he has become politically, his legislation about cameras at the polling stations on September 17 died in committee and did not make it onto the Knesset floor.
It was one more bump in a rocky election season that never reached the same diplomatic heights of the spring campaign.

Visits to Ukraine and London, and the opening of a Honduran trade office in Jerusalem, have fallen short of the springtime’s dizzying diplomatic achievements.

It’s hard to replicate US recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, a meeting with US President Donald Trump, or the return of the body of soldier Zachary Baumel after 37 years.

This time around, Netanyahu has also campaigned while under fire - literally - with Gaza rockets falling in southern Israel, West Bank terrorist attacks claiming the lives of two-teenage victims, drone warfare and Hezbollah firing Kornet anti-tank missiles at an IDF vehicle on the northern border.

Even his relationship with Trump, his diplomatic BFF, has suddenly appeared rocky, with the US President speaking of a possible meeting with one of Israel’s arch enemies, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That followed Netanyahu’s refusal to grant entry visas to two left-wing pro-BDS congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, presumably under pressure from Trump. It gave Netanyahu the appearance of a prime minister who could not withstand US pressure, even if it meant weakening bi-partisan congressional support, one of the pillars of the US-Israel relationship.

Then, out of nowhere, as his golden boy diplomatic image appeared to be tarnishing, he received an electoral lift from an unusual source: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The UN nuclear watchdog announced that traces of uranium had been found at the site of secret atomic warehouse, discovered by Israel and publicized by Netanyahu.

Within 24 hours, Netanyahu held a press conference on Iran in which he unveiled yet another hidden Iranian nuclear site.

On a technical basis, it would not matter if the site was significant or insignificant when it comes to the long and arduous process of proving Iranian nuclear violations.

Netanyahu’s words were fairly brief. He spoke for just seven minutes, half of which was in Hebrew, and then he repeated his words in English.

But then not much was really needed for Netanyahu to remind the Israeli public that when it comes to saving Israel from Iran’s existential threat, he has been the country’s chief warrior whose deed are unparalleled and would likely not be matched by any of his successors.

Netanyahu has been the global clarion on the dangers of a nuclear Iran, speaking out at the UN, in Europe, in Russia and from every international stage possible.

He successfully helped sway not one but two US administrations, Obama’s and then Trump’s, of the seriousness of the Iranian global threat.

When Obama chose to combat the threat through a negotiated deal that Netanyahu believed would allow Iran to retain its nuclear program, he did not hesitate to go head-to-head with the US President.

Trump’s decision to leave that deal can also be credited partially to Netanyahu, as has the bond formed with the US and moderate Arab countries around the need to combat Iranian regional aggression.

Under Netanyahu’s watch, Israel’s 2018 successful heist of a cache of some 100,000 documents for Iran’s nuclear program, stolen from a secret vault in Tehran, was a spectacular intelligence achievement.

Netanyahu’s clever invocation of Trump’s name at the press conference linked him with the US President on this issue by reminding the Israeli public of the tight ties that have existed between the two on this issue.

With all the reasons not to support Netanyahu, his ability to help Israel combat Iran’s existential threat remains one of his strongest calling cards.

As a result, when it comes to securing electoral support and touting diplomatic achievement, Iran is one of the gifts that keeps on giving for Netanyahu.


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