President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look out a window before their lunch at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)
It seems to me there are two basic issues underlying this diplomatic crises between Israel and US, which may be some kind of – but not so certainly – a security crisis. First, the lack of procedure and the deep disrespect for the American president – and the office of the Presidency – surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit and speech to Congress.
Israel’s own political figures Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid say respectively that Netanyahu’s trip will “hurt Israel’s security” and is “destroying our strategic relationship with the United States.”
Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has called on Netanyahu to cancel it. Former president Shimon Peres has condemned it and said that Netanyahu should only come to the US according to the blessings of the American president. Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel C. Kurtzer says of Dermer: “He’s a political operative, he’s not really an ambassador....Keep up to date on the latest opinion pieces on our new Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
What he did was totally unacceptable from a standpoint of diplomacy. To think about going behind the back of a friendly country’s administration and working out this kind of arrangement with the parliament or the Congress – it’s unheard-of.”
The head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, has slammed the visit. Conservative columnist and commentator David Brooks calls it “unwise” and “bad for Israel.” Dennis Ross, a close advisor to president Bill Clinton and well known for blaming Yasser Arafat for the failure of Camp David, has called for the speech to be cancelled. Madeleine Albright, president Bill Clinton’s successful secretary of state and proud of her rediscovered Jewish roots, has criticized it and called it a mistake.
Conservative Fox News anchor’s Chris Wallace even terms it “wicked” that Israel’s ambassador Ron Dermer met for two hours with US Secretary of State John Kerry and kept secret his prime minister’s impending visit, and adds, “I have to say I’m shocked.”
Another Fox News anchor, Shepherd Smith, believes that Netanyahu thinks “we don’t pay attention and that we’re just a bunch of complete morons, the United States citizens, as if we wouldn’t pick up on what’s happening here.”
Wallace adds that “to ignore the president, to not even let him know that his is coming, and to sneak in” is a “deliberate and really egregious snub.”
Netanyahu could also – and still – give the same speech at AIPAC, and not offend President Barack Obama and the dignity of the presidency.
The second issue involves Netanyahu’s message, were he to come, and relates to Iran. Is there any alternative to – uncoerced – negotiations?
1. Iran has always claimed in the name of its version of Islam to oppose the possession of nuclear weapons, and has a fatwa against it, and the last thing anyone can claim is they don’t take their Islam (and in their version) with the utmost and all-encompassing gravity.
2. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – with whom we could not disagree more vehemently – nonetheless “only” meant the bloodless and peaceful reconfiguration of Israel into a one-state solution – which is something that ironically much of the Israeli Right wants anyway. He did not mean “wiping off the map” in the violent, science fiction, paranoid, sense of Rightist fantasy.
3. The last thing Iran wants – however much we may oppose it – is to destroy its one-state vision.
4. Israel is 20 percent Muslim, and Jerusalem is even more Muslim – and filled with Islamic holy places including the Noble Sanctuary, as well as being adjacent to the West Bank and millions more Muslims who would be annihilated by a nuclear attack. The deterrent effect cannot be overstated.
5. If Iran did attack Israel, they would be crushed by Israeli and US bombs.
And just as Israel is the only Jewish state, Iran, the only Persian state, would be decimated. So an attack by Iran is an impossibility. In fact the only way it wouldn’t be an impossibility is – ironically and precisely – if Israel or the US attacked it, which would further explode extremism throughout Iran and even the whole Middle East.
6. And this returns us to the irrefutable fact that there is no option besides negotiations.
An embargo or sanctions against Iran will never work against a large country on the other side of the world with so many other international trading partners. Sanctions would be even less likely to work than they did with in the case of the nearly 60-year embargo of tiny and much more vulnerable and adjacent Cuba.
New sanctions would re-intensify hostility and extremism in Iran.
In short: We have a compelling and irrefutable lack of rational alternatives to negotiations.
The US has one president at a time.
This president has always supplied Israel with all the arms it needs. The strategic alliance and trust between nations is also basic to Israel’s security.
The president, together with cool heads including Israeli intelligence, are trying to keep Israel out of a suicidally intensified tsunami of Iranian extremism, and prevent an outright existential disaster of all-out warfare with Iran – or even with most of an Islamic Middle East that an attack on Iran could much radicalize and unify. Let us trust these cool, calm and analytical minds, like those of our own president and our intelligence agencies, much of the Israeli intelligence community and major Israeli political figures like Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, to help keep Israel from both insulting its closest ally – and the potential existential suicidal disaster of “Speechgate.” This speech has rightly drawn unprecedented opposition from both the US and Israel, and from among both nation’s publics, political figures and intelligence experts alike.
Let us trust the combination of 1) the president’s record of stalwart arms and diplomatic aid; 2) objective common sense and logic and evidence – including the consideration and elimination of nonviable alternatives; and 3) the so-far unshaken but now-fraying US-Israeli alliance. What better foundation could Israel have supporting it? Unless Netanyahu undermines and devastates all three integral parts?
The writer blogs on the Middle East and has a master’s degree in religion.