Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Bloomberg
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AP
Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama at the White House, 2011 Photo by AP

Of late, the many faceted Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have found a new task for himself: Playing an unaccented Henry Kissinger to Mitt Romney's far more lustrous, far more philo-Semitic version of Richard Nixon.

At first, of course, there was every reason to think that in his role as America's shadow secretary of state, Netanyahu had found a win-win strategy, one that could work to the advantage of both the prime minister and the Republican Party.

As long as the Obama campaign seemed to be sputtering, there seemed no downside to hectoring, lecturing, and loudly, if indirectly, ridiculing the Obama administration for being soft on Iran. As long as the incumbent president seemed on the ropes, as he did after the sweeping Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections, Netanyahu could view brinksmanship with the White House over Iran as a sure thing.

Take Netanyahu's demand that the White House set red lines and deadlines, beyond which the United States would be committed to unleashing a military onslaught against Iranian nuclear facilities.  

If President Obama failed to agree, Republicans could paint him as weak and open to appeasement. If, on the other hand, Obama did agree, both Netanyahu and the Republican Party could claim victory, taking Obama to task for lacking the leadership they themselves had shown.

In recent days, however, there's been a certain air of desperation in the ways Netanyahu has continued to pursue this policy. The desperation has grown in the face of the opposition of growing and already large numbers of respected current and former Israeli security,nuclear, diplomatic and intelligence experts to any attack on Iran at this time, and more pointedly, against a unilateral Israeli offensive.

And, in particular, when Barack Obama's campaign appears to be surging.

If immediate red lines are in order, Benjamin Netanyahu would be well advised to set them for himself, and the malice and abuse and disrespect he has heaped on the president. If deadlines are in order, he might consider his upcoming U.S. visit - and the White House rejection of a meeting with Obama - as an opportune moment to shut down entirely the verbal centrifuges he has set spinning in attacks on the president, the secretary of state, and other administration officials.

If for no other reason than Netanyahu's preference for public pronouncements rather than back-channel cooperation with Washington, plays directly into the hands of Iran, and increases the potential dangers to Israel.

Or, if for no other reason, than the fact that Israeli officials are beginning to discuss the specifics of a threat that the prime minister's office has only discussed in vague whispers until now: Payback.

Simply put, what price will Netanyahu be made to pay, should Barack Obama win on November 6?

As Obama has maintained and widened an edge over Romney, clues have begun to emerge. "The damage that Netanyahu has caused relations with the United States is profound," a senior Israeli government official was quoted as telling Yediot Ahronot earlier this month. "We can expect that the United States will halt its automatic policy of vetoing condemnations of Israel in international forums, headed by the UN and the Security Council."

"Where anything regarding settlements is concerned, Israel can forget about an American veto."

The official, who declined to be named, spoke of the depth of the administration's rage at Netanyahu's handling of the Iran threat.

No surprise there.

After all, it's not every day that the prime minister of an isolated Israel issues what amounts to an ultimatum to his most dependable, most indispensible ally. It's not every day that an Israeli prime minister who by geopolitical necessity must be scrupulously neutral in an American presidential race, tailors his moves to the campaign of one party at the expense of the other.

And it's not every day that the prime minister of an Israel whose very security depends on close cooperation with the White House, appears to work angles to try to see an incumbent president defeated - for example, announcing just at the climax of the Republican convention his intention to go to the UN to tell the world of the dangers of Iran's nuclear program.

Only, in the case of Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff, it has been literally every day.

Tuesday, for example, when he took his attacks on the Obama administration to a new level.

"The world tells Israel 'wait, there's still time," he told reporters. "And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."

He may be unable to stop himself. But he has to find a way to quit. Maybe he needs a Supreme Leader to help him. Guide him. Force him.

If need be, let him schedule another meeting with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. But let him do it at once.