Netanyahu at AIPAC - AP - March 5, 2012
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after addressing the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, Monday, March 5, 2012. Photo by AP
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This was pure, unadulterated, one hundred percent proof Benjamin Netanyahu: solidly in his element, before his kind of crowd, delivering the Churchillian speech he was meant for, in the role that fate has thrust upon him.

This was not Munich, because President Obama, even for Netanyahu, is no longer Neville Chamberlain. And it wasn’t the War Speech, because the guns are still silent. So this was “The Lights are Going Out” speech, broadcast from London to the United States on October 16, 1938, in which Churchill exhorted America to “banish from all our lives the fear which already darkens the sunlight to hundreds of millions of men.”

Thus, there were no Palestinians, no peace process, no 1967 borders and no settlements to freeze in Netanyahu’s succinct and rousing speech at the AIPAC Annual Conference last night. There were no weights on his feet, no obstacles in his way, no lip service for the prime minister to pay to a naïve president who believes that Israeli concessions will make the slightest difference.

For once, at long last, there was only nuclear-crazed Iran, of which he has been warning, a juxtaposed Holocaust, to which he has been comparing, an admiring Jewish audience, to which he has been preaching, and a bottom line that couldn’t be clearer: “We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.”

So this was Netanyahu’s response to President Obama’s request to give him more time: not much longer. Israel won’t attack now, but it won’t adhere to Obama’s timetable either. Israel will give the international community a few more months to achieve the kind of dramatic breakthrough that Netanyahu made crystal clear he does not believe in. Then “the Jewish state will not allow those seeking our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal”, no ifs or buts about it.

So if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, as the prime minister said yesterday in another context – is it really a duck? Has Netanyahu crossed the Rubicon? Has he now resigned himself to war, as he surely sounded last night, or is he still raising the stakes and ratcheting up the pressure on Obama to act forcefully and swiftly in order to prevent the conflagration that Netanyahu is threatening to unleash?

One needs to know the exact details of the exchange between Obama and Netanyahu at the White House yesterday, especially in their one on one meeting, in order to know the answers to these questions, though this, of course, did not prevent the analysts and commentators from debating that very subject last night. For his part, Netanyahu disturbingly displayed his ever-growing antipathy to such “commentators” who don’t toe the party line and happen to disagree with his views by comparing them, in some convoluted way, to War Department officials who refused to bomb Auschwitz in 1944. In Netanyahu’s new war mode, perhaps, there is no more room for dissent or criticism, a position no doubt shared by many of the listeners in his audience and by most of his colleagues back home.

Netanyahu will find no such fault, obviously, with Republican presidential hopefuls Romney, Santorum and Gingrich who will address the conference today by videolink, no doubt to quarrel with Obama, signifying the unprecedented and potentially harmful position that both Israel, in general, and the standoff, with Iran, in particular, have taken in this election campaign. The White House will certainly be seeking and probably finding signs of what they will interpret as “collusion” between Netanyahu and his close Republican friends, further complicating the already complex relationship between the two leaders which overshadows, not for better but for worse, the dangerous predicament that both countries seem headed for.

Are Obama and Netanyahu playing “good cop, bad cop”, as some would suggest, or are their public differences a true reflection of their ongoing adversarial relationship? And even if Netanyahu is just posturing, is he not entrapping himself in his own words, allowing his rhetorical flourishes to establish facts on the ground that may ultimately cause unintended consequences? The answer to these questions will become apparent in the next few months which, if anything, now seem certain to make Obama’s forecast that they will be “difficult” seem like the understatement of the year.

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