Analysis: Seeing the world through the Iranian prism

Netanyahu meets with security establishment to flesh out policies on Teheran's nuclear program.

binyamin netanyahu 88 248 (photo credit: Bloomberg News)
binyamin netanyahu 88 248
(photo credit: Bloomberg News)
As Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu makes his rounds of meetings with the security establishment - he met Defense Minister Ehud Barak for security briefings, not coalition talks, on Monday and Tuesday - one thing that is emerging is that Netanyahu very much sees the world, or at least the region, through the Iranian prism. Like the Book of Esther read on Purim, where the reader is left with the sense that the main characters' strings in ancient Persia were being pulled from behind the scenes, that there was a marionette on the other side of the curtain, so too does Netanyahu firmly believe that modern-day Iran is currently pulling the strings in our region - from Syria to Lebanon to Gaza. What this means is that in drawing up his policy toward Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, he is believed to be concentrating on how that policy will impact Teheran. For instance, if Hamas is viewed as an auxiliary of Iran, as a tentacle of Iran, then it may be necessary to chop it off, not merely seal the border or find a way to temporarily keep the rockets from falling on the south. What is emerging from Netanyahu's conversations with the country's security elite - in addition to meeting Barak he is also in the process of meeting the heads of the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Mossad - is that he does not have the same baggage on certain issues that Olmert and Kadima's leadership have demonstrated. For instance, he doesn't have the same psychological Rubicon regarding the disengagement from Gaza as did Olmert, and that may give the prime minister-designate a freer hand to look at different polices regarding the Gaza Strip. Olmert - like Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - has never done anything like President Shimon Peres did when he admitted the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 might not have been the wisest of moves. And an unwillingness to admit that disengagement was a mistake, has, to a certain degree, tied the government's hands. For instance, neither Olmert or Livni, who backed and have taken credit for disengagement, could entertain the idea of having to go back into Gaza for any extended period of time to "decapitate" Hamas, because that would be tantamount to saying that the decision to leave the Gaza Strip a few years earlier was a bad mistake. Netanyahu, who opposed disengagement, and at the very last minute left the government because of it, is not burdened by the same legacy. If he feels Iran is pulling Hamas's strings, he may very well conclude that there is no choice but to go back into Gaza. Even if it means staying in the Strip for a period of time in order to defeat an "Iranian proxy." The security meetings Netanyahu is currently conducting are not believed to be focused on the Iranian nuclear menace, but rather on the mischief Iran is currently stirring up in Gaza and Lebanon. Netanyahu's diplomatic/ security team will conduct a comprehensive review of a number of key issues - Iran's nuclear development will require such a review. But the Iranian nuclear issue does not need an immediate response the day after Netanyahu takes office, widely expected to be some time next week. The rockets from Gaza, by contrast, will demand an immediate response, and it is on that issue - as well as the likelihood that Hizbullah will try to test him from Lebanon - that Netanyahu's current security briefings are believed to be focused. Netanyahu's advisers say it is highly unlikely the policies in place up until now regarding the rockets from Gaza will continue under a Netanyahu government. It is "inconceivable" to imagine that he would allow the current drizzle of rockets to continue for weeks, months and years to come, said his advisers. Netanyahu has made it clear that he doesn't believe in "wars of attrition," and he is also aware Israel's enemies will want to test him. His current briefings are meant to arm him with a response. Among the questions being discussed are not only what kind of message he will want to send, but also when to send it. For instance, should Israel's policy change abruptly and immediately, and in a way that all can see, or should it change gradually? These are among the issues Netanyahu is now fleshing out with the country's security elite, knowing full well that after he is sworn in he will not have 100 hours of grace, let alone 100 days. He will be confronted right away with challenges demanding an immediate response.