Sneering and Triumphant, Netanyahu Tours the American Province

On the eve of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, it is looking more and more like Obama’s surrender ceremony.  Will Obama surprise the world by finding his backbone?
Netanyahu has ridden the fear of Iran into power, and he is sacrificing his campaign against Iran for expansion of illegal settlements. But the logical conclusion is not that Netanyahu has magically forgotten his tirades about Ahmadinejad being the Hitler of our times (a conclusion rashly reached by Zakaria and others). The logical conclusion is that Netanyahu was never sincere about his professed fear of Iran in the first place.
Netanyahu is a cunning adversary who should not be underestimated, and he knows exactly which country he gives his loyalty to – and it is definitely not the good old U.S.A. The evidence suggests he knows exactly what he is doing. First, his actions preserve his coalition and are in fact intimidating the Obama Administration, as far as can be judged from the public record of their timid response to date. Second, his words to his supporters (e.g., “building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv”) are consistent with his actions, both indicating his determination to absorb all the best parts into Israel, to ethnically cleanse those parts of Palestinians, and to subject Palestinians to an apartheid regime in the places left to them. That is a far more significant challenge to Obama than the Netanyahu Administration’s egregious insult to Biden last week. As Netanyahu flies across the Atlantic, Obama awaits on his knees. Whether or not Obama will be able to stand up before Netanyahu can deliver the knockout punch is now the critical question both for Obama’s reputation and the future course of the Western confrontation with Islam.
Unlike most Americans, Netanyahu–an experienced regional leader who has bluffed and insulted American presidents now long gone–knows perfectly well that Iran is not only generations behind Israel in power and economically weak but has a rather cautious foreign policy. He knows that Iran has its own ideas but that its leaders’ bark tends to be worse than their bite.
Iran is not scary to nuclear-armed Israel; rather, Iran is incredibly useful. Talk about Iran is worth billions in US aid to a country that is, as Petraeus has pointed out, harming U.S. national security by its intransigence toward the Palestinians (not to mention by its astonishing willingness to risk yet another war of aggression against a Muslim country—provided that it is fought to the last American.)
But real war against Iran is, as should now be clear, not important to Netanyahu’s game plan. His goals are the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians out of all areas that he wants for Israeli colonization and the perpetuation of Israeli military dominance over the Mideast. The latter point does not require actual war against Iran (which is no real threat), but it does require the subordination and humiliation of Iran, rather than the breakthrough in U.S.-Iranian ties that the U.S. needs to shore up its threatened security position from Iraq to Afghanistan.
If in the process, he can also humiliate Obama and thus gain a free field of action to destroy the Palestinians as an organized society, so much the better according to his calculations. Not actually fearing Iran at all, Netanyahu is free to use the “Iran threat” to pressure naive Americans who may hold warm feelings for the Jewish people but know nothing about the Mideast.
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Another Perspective
Ray McGovern makes a strong case (Antiwar, March 8, 2010) for a different interpretation of Israeli right wing intentions regarding Iran, arguing that Mullen’s warnings after visiting Israel about the danger of attacking Iran and the limits on what such an attack could accomplish indicate Israeli desires for a war; perhaps, but his audience might well have been militarist circles in the U.S. The Israeli right may well view an attack on Iran with equanimity or even eagerness, but I would contend that it has clearly identified the absorption of the West Bank as far more important than addressing the “existential” threat posed by Iran.
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