Comment: We have all lost

Netanyahu ignored all the warnings. He had an election to win and he did.

By
July 17, 2015 12:23
Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes on Sunday, June 14, on a proposal to change how Israel’s ruling party elects its MKs. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The agreement between Iran and the superpowers should not have surprised anybody in the international or Israeli arenas. It would have been a strategic surprise had the agreement issue not existed. It was on this ticket, after all, that Barack Obama was elected to the US presidency. It was his mission.

For better or for worse? History will be the judge.

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Obama was elected in order to put an end to America’s wars, to pull America out of the quicksand in which it was floundering. Obama was elected because America was tired and because it had changed. In the not too distant future, America’s solid white majority will have turned into a kind of coalition of minorities.

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Obama was elected because Americans understood that the use of force has got them nowhere and only intensified global destruction. This week Obama fulfilled his election promise. According to him, he has already succeeded. In another year and a half he’ll establish a presidential library in Chicago. We’ll still be here, dealing with the results. Incidentally, there is no guarantee that they’ll be so terrible. History has its own laws and is full of surprises.

Lets go back 13 years, to September 2002. Benjamin Netanyahu, three years after being booted out of the Prime Minister’s Office and 18 months after relinquishing the post to Ariel Sharon, he addressed Congress and called for toppling Saddam Hussein before he developed nuclear weapons.

“There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons – no question whatsoever,” Netanyahu, then a private citizen, said in September 2002. “And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately.”



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Together with others, Netanyahu succeeded in persuading post-9/11 America to attack Iraq, after it invaded Afghanistan.

Afterward, Americans tried to find evidence in Iraq of the WMD Netanyahu spoke of and found nothing. Saddam was captured and executed. America paid a heavy price in Iraq; the operation cost hundreds of billions of dollars and undermined the country’s economy.

The US entered the campaign in Iraq as a single unit with inbuilt supremacy over the rest of the world and came out a wounded, defensive, nervous power, helpless and lacking direction. Saddam Hussein has been replaced by our friends in ISIS, the entire Middle East is in flames, in Afghanistan the Taliban are raising their heads and soon we’ll all be yearning for Osama bin Laden, especially in comparison with Abu-Bachar al Baghdadi.

Now, as John Kerry told Yitzhak Herzog last Sunday, “No one’s listening to Netanyahu any more.” In retrospect, America acted against the wrong enemy.

The invasion of Iraq was an historic and Middle Eastern mistake. The big prize was around the corner, in the emerging nuclear sites of Tehran.

Like Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu had a mission; unfortunately an opposing one. Netanyahu sees himself as someone who was born, anointed, and destined to stop the Iranian nuclear program and prevent a second Holocaust. Netanyahu is a permanent alarmist. The trouble is that some of his warnings are right.

Sadly, Netanyahu was taken seriously when he was talking nonsense; and is treated like a fool when he’s making sense on the Iran issue. His diagnosis was right. The Iranian nuclear program is alive and kicking, deep underground and enriching uranium.

Netanyahu wasn’t the first to identify the danger. He was preceded by Rabin, Barak, Olmert, Ariel Sharon and other Israeli leaders. On a professional level, the first to indicate this danger was Maj.- Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, now a permanent fixture in Israel’s Intelligence system.

Netanyahu is absolutely right in his criticism (which is usually sharpened by Defense Minister Ya’alon) of the way the Americans conducted the negotiations.

Even if the consensus is that the only solution is a diplomatic one, it could have been done differently.

Obama conducted negotiations the way a naïve, appeasing, American liberal would. There isn’t a mistake the Americans didn’t make on the way to the agreement, including the declaration of Secretary of Defense Gates that there is no military option. They continued to stress that there is no other option, no alternative; that an agreement must be reached.

How come that after every round of talks the Americans went home in order to withdraw a little further and the Iranians didn’t budge an inch? What would have happened if, for example, during the last year, the Americans had kept two or three aircraft carriers in the Gulf region and held a few noticeable exercises in conjunction with some of the area’s friendly air and sea forces? The US conducted these negotiations as if desperate for an agreement, whereas Iran came in as a self-confident world superpower for whom the achievement or non-achievement of an agreement is of no consequence. The results are evident in the agreement’s 159 pages.

Netanyahu convened his political-security cabinet on Tuesday evening. There was a vote and the agreement was unanimously rejected. It emerged from the cabinet that all the military experts who addressed the ministers shared the opinion that this is a bad agreement with disastrous potential. True, but not entirely accurate. The Vienna agreement should be divided in two and analyzed with caution: The nuclear part “passes.” The agreement could have been better in all aspects of the nuclear issue, but it’s not entirely bad. It pushes back the nuclear program by more than a decade. It has one obvious hole with regard to suspicious new sites (monitoring of existing sites is immediate and intrusive).

Assuming that Israeli Intelligence will come to the IAEA with information on a secret site where Iran continues to enrich uranium or to secretly build another installation, it will take the powers 24 days to arrive at the place, by which time the Iranians will have enough time to clear away all incriminating evidence.

On the other hand, it is hard to believe that with the supervision now imposed on Iran, including supervision of uranium mining and, assuming that Western intelligence services (especially the CIA and Mossad) will continue to supervise events in Iran, that the ayatollahs would gamble on so rudely violating the agreement.

Nonetheless, such things have been known to happen.

Contrary to expectations, the agreement also has a conventional side. Pity we didn’t think of it earlier. The conventional part of the agreement is more dangerous than its nuclear part. While constantly screaming “nuclear, nuclear,” Netanyahu forgot that in its conventional terrorist activity, Iran poses a direct and immediate threat to the entire Middle East and beyond, besides Israel. He focused all his efforts on centrifuges and uranium enrichment, when the troubles are opening up against him from entirely different directions.

This is the reason, too, that most of Israel’s criticism of the signed agreement is now aimed at the legitimization that Iran is receiving from the international community and the hundreds of millions that will now flow into its terrorism machine.

Israeli spokesmen stress that Obama sees Iran as part of the solution and not the problem. True, Obama is getting close to Iran and is impressed by the fact that it is the only element willing to make sacrifices in the war against ISIS and Sunni extremism. This still doesn’t indicate that Obama means to abandon traditional US allies in the region. He believes that Iran is easier to change through “soft force” than by military force.

Obama is convinced that military measures have run their course. Contrary to Israeli opinion, he hopes that the new openness, foreign investment, and the beginnings of ties with the West will accelerate the political trend in Iran toward reform.

Now, amid the broken pieces, Netanyahu demands that everyone unite behind him in cooperation and solidarity against the looming catastrophe. The whole world is against us, now’s the time to lay aside the differences.

Well, no. These broken pieces are Netanyahu’s handiwork. The fact that Israel and the Republicans in America stand in isolation against the rest of the world is the exclusive invention of Netanyahu.

He decided to gamble, and to gamble again and to raise the stakes, in spite of being warned, in spite of knowing that what was in the balance, he is now trying to stick responsibility for this situation on everyone.

Admittedly, according to public opinion, Netanyahu has won a resounding victory. The problem is that it’s local public opinion. A poll by Panels Politic published Wednesday proves this.

The large majority of the public is convinced that the agreement brings Iran closer to military nuclear power (contrary to the opinions of all the world’s experts, including those in Israel); the public is convinced that this agreement endangers Israel, almost half of Israeli public opinion favors a military attack on Iran (no one has updated the public that technically Israel has a military option, but no real feasibility.

And the public (although not the large majority) is pressuring Netanyahu to continue to fight against Obama and against the agreement in Congress.

If Netanyahu really did want to halt the Iranian nuclear program, he should have followed one of two alternatives: First, he could either have attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities when this was still relevant (2009-2012), or tried to influence the powers from within. Second, he could have tried to influence the negotiations between the powers and Iran.

For this, Netanyahu should have become Obama’s and Europe’s closest strategic ally. He should have built a personal rapport with Obama. He should have taken several vital political steps (e.g. to freeze settler activity). He should have told the truth and convinced the world that he was interested in peace.

From an inside position, rather than that of an outsider, he could have influenced.

But Netanyahu had no intention of doing these things, lest it get him in trouble with the settlers and annoy extreme-right supporters. So he chose the third option, which no responsible leader would dare to choose. He attempted to depose the problematic American president (in 2012), to replace him with another, more amenable president.

It was an insane gamble, extremely strange, and one that no Israeli leader has tried before. He undermined the president by delivering a speech to Congress, in defiance of warnings, even from Israel’s staunchest supporters in America, that such an act was counterproductive.

Netanyahu ignored all the warnings. He had an election to win and he did.

And, in the meantime, we have all lost.

Translated by Ora Cummings.


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