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Jonathan Kay: The hawks’ case against Netanyahu

 

Jonathan Kay

March 13, 2015

 

The defining moment in Benjamin Netanyahu’s career as international statesman came on Sept. 27, 2012, when the Israeli prime minister addressed the United Nations on the subject of Iran and its stated desire to wipe Israel off the map.

“Three thousand years ago, King David reigned over the Jewish state in our eternal capital, Jerusalem,” he said. “I say that to all those who proclaim that the Jewish state has no roots in our region and that it will soon disappear. Throughout our history, the Jewish people have overcome all the tyrants who have sought our destruction.

When Stephen Harper visited Israel last year, the diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz newspaper poured cold water on the special rapport between the Canadian prime minister and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Mr. Harper has earned himself a cabin in the first-class berth of the Titanic that is called the government of Israel,” wrote Barack Ravid.

His suggestion was Mr. Netanyahu was “going down” in the general election, which will be held Tuesday, and would take the special relationship with him.

Reports of Mr. Netanyahu’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated — he remains more likely than his chief challenger, Isaac Herzog, to be able to pull together a ruling coalition.

 “Some 70 years ago, the world saw another fanatic ideology bent on world conquest,” he added. “It went down in flames. But not before it took millions of people with it. Those who opposed that fanaticism waited too long to act. In the end they triumphed, but at an horrific cost.… My friends, we cannot let that happen again. At stake is not merely the future of my own country. At stake is the future of the world. Nothing could imperil our common future more than the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons.”

Behold Mr. Netanyahu’s great themes. It is 1938. Militant Islam is the modern Nazism. Jews are in peril, and so is the whole civilized world. Pretty much everything the Israeli prime minister says for international consumption is a variation on this.

And give the man his due: No one has been more passionate and consistent in his defence of the Jewish state’s right to exist as a secure and internationally recognized entity. But there comes a point when even the most inspiring speaker wears out his audience’s welcome.

On that day at the UN in the fall of 2012, Mr. Netanyahu brought a prop, which is why people still remember the speech: a cartoony black-and-white image of a bomb that looked like the sort of thing Wile E. Coyote might try to drop on The Road Runner. During his presentation, Mr. Netanyahu turned this bowling-ball candle bomb into a sort of bar graph, using a red pen to mark off the “90%” bomb-construction completion level that Iran allegedly would hit by mid-2013. As geopolitical theatre, it was both esthetically campy and substantively misleading: Many people thought the numbers referred to uranium-enrichment percentages, when in fact he was citing an arbitrary measuring system of his own invention.

This spectacle was the best and worst of Mr. Netanyahu in a nutshell. To his cheerleaders, he is a 21st-century Churchill. To his detractors, it is all repetitive podium melodrama and Zionist shtick. Mr. Netanyahu issued his first alert about Iran’s nuclear program is 1993 — warning Israelis that Tehran could have a nuclear weapon as early as 1999. Some might ask: Has it really been 1938 for the past 22 years?

It is absolutely true that the threat posed by a nuclear-capable Iran is as horrifying today as it was in the 1990s — more so, in fact, because Iran has cultivated powerful proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq that could wage war under Tehran’s nuclear umbrella. But a single man can raise the hue and cry for only so long before the world begins dismissing him as a monomaniac.

Mr. Netanyahu has tried to keep his message fresh by inventing new props and phrases — Iran’s “tentacles of terror” was the one he wheeled out at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington. After a while, though, that becomes self-parodic. It also grates against the Western leaders who are tasked with actually dealing with the Iranian threat.

In fact, some members of Israel’s own security establishment now are bitterly critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s Iran fixation — including former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who this week assailed Mr. Netanyahu for alienating Washington on the Iran file while ignoring Israel’s pressing problems at home.

For all these reasons, even Middle East hawks should concede that it’s time for someone new to represent Israel on the world stage.

Netanyahu’s good-versus-evil absolutism has been a liability

And here’s one final reason: the fate of the Palestinians, which Mr. Netanyahu seems not to have the slightest interest in addressing.

The Israeli prime minister is very much in his element when he speaks in the language of moral absolutes, which is why he is such a star on the international lecture circuit. What Canadian synagogue congregation or right-wing American think-tank won’t give a standing ovation to an applause line about preventing a second Shoah? But the overarching security and diplomatic goal for Israel in 2015 (as it has been for decades) is practical in nature: negotiating peace with the Palestinians. And on this project, Mr. Netanyahu’s good-versus-evil absolutism has been a liability, because he regards any meaningful concession to the Palestinians as an existential betrayal of the Jewish people. To the extent he has articulated any vision at all for an agreement, it is a bizarro-world pipe dream in which Mahmoud Abbas unconditionally rolls over on the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, borders and Palestinian security powers. That’s not a plan. It’s a set of slogans.

 Resolving the Palestinian issue won’t, by itself, guarantee Israel’s long-term security. But it’s a necessary condition, because every violent interaction between Israelis and Palestinians invites the possibility of a wider war. And Mr. Netanyahu has shown he is fundamentally incapable of addressing this critical issue with anything except base-pleasing rhetoric.

I doubt Mr. Netanyahu’s successor will have the same gift for bringing sympathetic audiences in the West to their feet. But at this point in Israel’s history, a great orator is not what the country needs most.

National Post

 

COMMENT

DAN ZWICKER

04 / 02 /2012

 

THOSE WHO CANNOT LEAD IN THE CAULDRON LIKE WORLD OF MIDDLE EAST POLITICS TEACH, PREACH OR WRITE ABOUT THEIR SOLUTIONS.

 

WAR IS A BLOOD SPORT.  THREATS OF ANNIHILATION ARE TO BE DEALT WITH IN CONTEXT – STRIKE FIRST – THERE IS NOTHING TO NEGOTIATE WITH A DICTATOR/MURDERER WHO DELIVERS DEATH.

 

THE CURRENT ROUND OF TALKS WITH IRAN REFLECTS UNBELIEVABLE NAIVETE IN THE MATTER OF MILITARY STRATEGY.

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