While Netanyahu’s gambler buddy Adelson tries to buy the U.S. presidential election with, seemingly, Chinese cash laundered through Macao [Propublica 7/16/12], Israeli leader Netanyahu is refocusing his attack away from Iran to former senior Israeli officials, then his own ministers, and now Obama. Are we seeing a panicking politician destroying his own career?
In his campaign to provoke war against Iran, Netanyahu has moved from attacking Iran to attacking former senior Israeli military/intelligence officials to attacking his own ministers to, now, attacking Obama. For years Netanyahu has been claiming the existence of both an imminent Iranian militarization of its nuclear technology and the posing of an existential threat to Israel. Over the past year, as ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan led a wave of former senior Israeli officials to publically warn Israel against Netanyahu’s dangerous behavior, Netanyahu shifted to attacking these former Israeli officials, attempting to destroy their reputations and curb their personal freedom. Over the past week, as splits over his Iran policy within his administration have become public, he turned to criticizing his own officials for letting the public know about their disagreements with him. Now, in response to remarks by Secretary of State Clinton and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland [New York Times9/11/12], he is focusing on attacking Obama. Increasingly shrill, Netanyahu seems unable to identify his real enemy—Iran, former Israeli officials, current Israeli officials, or Obama.
The effect of Netanyahu’s performance is uncertain. For Americans, the crucial issue is paying heed to the host of high-level Israeli and U.S. military/intelligence officials who have warned of the risks of starting a war whose end is unpredictable, including the very real counterproductive possibility of provoking Iran to take the last step to nuclear militarization. Iranians must balance their glee at seeing Netanyahu increasingly isolated against the danger that his isolation will provoke him into irrational behavior. Israelis must decide if Netanyahu’s warmongering posture is really the appropriate way of protecting Israeli national security, not to mention the Israeli democracy Netanyahu abuses by trying to paint his domestic opponents as indulging in treason.
As for the substance of Netanyahu’s argument, his statement [Reuters 9/11/12] that the U.S. has “no moral right” to stop Israel from committing aggression against Iran is worth noting, for if that is true, then it must also follow that the U.S. also has no moral right to stop Iran from building the bomb and protecting itself from Israeli threats. Taking a different point of view and asserting the moral right of the world’s last remaining superpower to take a very strong stand against aggression by either side would lead to a better world. Whether or not Netanyahu has a moral right to push the U.S. into war is a question American voters need to ask themselves. Ms. Nuland calmly dismissed Netanyahu’s demands for “red lines” as “not useful” [CBS News 9/11/12]. A bit of poise from Tehran would also be useful, but Ahmadinejad, who enjoys a crisis every bit as much as Netanyahu, has been waving the bloody flag just as energetically, unhelpfully noting that Israel’s existence is “an insult to all humanity” [Financial Review 8/27/12].
Beneath the rhetoric, however, the recent IAEA report on Iran notes that many of the centrifuges about which Netanyahu appears publicly to be so excited are “old and unreliable,” while Iran apparently does not even have enough fuel for a single bomb, hardly suggesting a concerted Iranian effort to develop anything that could threaten nuclear power Israel [CBS News 9/10/12].
Whatever ground truth may be, both Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu obviously appreciate very clearly the personal benefits they derive from international tensions; indeed, it is hard to imagine how either could justify continuing in office were those tensions to diminish. If the Obama Administration can retain the poise it has shown in the last few days until election day, then perhaps that will open a door to solving this manufactured crisis. And once the crisis ends, Americans will need to remember the peril in which Netanyahu is attempting to place us.