In UN speech, Netanyahu targets Iran, but aims for Israeli public
Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn explains that while the PM's rhetoric on Iran has escalated, in practice he is catering to voters at home, who prefer the U.S. take lead on the threat from Tehran.
In his wildest fantasy, after going up to the podium to deliver his speech at the United Nations General Assembly and voicing predictable warnings about the Jewish historical plight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely pictured himself pulling out a note from his blazer and reading the dramatic message:
“IDF Chief just informed me of the successful completion of an operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Our soldiers are on the way home with no reported casualties, holding enriched Uranium Iran has harbored in recent years. The threats on Israel, the Gulf States and the global economy have been removed. I want to take this opportunity to thank all IDF combatants for their remarkable achievement, and join me in applauding them.”
But this wild dream did not come true. IDF soldiers remained in their bases, and the enrichment of uranium persists. Netanyahu settled for the thick red marker, which he used to draw a red line on a bomb diagram he brought from home, and tried to explain to the international community where and when to stop Iran before it’s too late.
Placing Iran at the top of his agenda serves Netanyahu’s political goals well ahead of a campaign cycle in which he will be running for his third term as Israel’s premier. He is perceived by the public as the only statesman capable of confronting the Iranian challenge, and his focus on the issue has only catapulted him to the top of the polls.
Netanyahu is, as usual, attentive to his public, catering his UN speech on Thursday to polls at home, which indicate that Israelis are concerned about Iran, but think the U.S. is the one that should take the country on, not Israel. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have not succeeded in convincing public opinion that the IDF can handle the Iranian threat on its own. The public has spoken: Not now and not alone.
Netanyahu’s speech was precisely suited to this position: He called on the international community to determine a red line on Iran – or in other words to threaten it with war – and did not proclaim that Israel would go it alone if “the world” disappoints it. Netanyahu wanted to sound resolute, just like viewers at home love, but without barking up a tree he will have a hard time climbing down from.
Now that Netanyahu’s term is close to coming to an end, it is the right time to estimate his policy on Iran. Netanyahu has escalated his rhetoric on Iran, but his practical policy is not distinct from his predecessors – and neither are the results. Like Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert before him, Netanyahu has also settled for covert operations and calls for help from the international community, which he framed in more severe threats of war and accelerated military preparations.
The result is nil. Iran has been disregarding Israel’s threats and continues with its nuclear program just like before. The “world,” led by Obama, has interfered only in order to curb Israel and thwart a strike, and to stop Iran.
The superpowers have continued their futile talks with the Iranians and with economic sanctions, which have not stopped the centrifuges in Natanz and Fordow, and have not overthrown the regime in Tehran. Like Netanyahu, Obama has also continued the policy of his predecessors, who have refused to start a war with Iran.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu dragged himself into an unnecessary public controversy with Obama over the U.S. presidents’ alleged flaccidity on Iran. His goal was apparently to help Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, also failed. Romney is trailing in the polls, and Obama has written off the prime minister’s treats of war as “noise.”
At the end of the day, the dispute between Obama and Netanyahu was futile. After all the public sensational throws between them, the references to Iran in both their speeches were practically identical. They are both concerned, but are not rushing to start a war that could get messy.