Netanyahu and Barak - IDF Spokesperson
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the IDF air base in Hatzerim. Photo by IDF Spokesperson
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Since his return from Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has mainly been preoccupied with one thing: Preparing public opinion for war against Iran.

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Netanyahu is attempting to convince the Israeli public that the Iranian threat is a tangible and existential one, and that there is only one effective way to stop it and prevent a "second Holocaust": An Israeli military attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure, which is buried deep underground.

In his speech before the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu urged his colleagues to reject claims that Israel is too weak to go it alone in a war against a regional power such as Iran and therefore needs to rely on the United States, which has much greater military capabilities, to do the job and remove the threat.

According to polls published last week, this is the position of most of the Israeli public, which supports a U.S. strike on Iran, but is wary of sending the IDF to the task without the backing of the friendly superpower.

Netanyahu presented three examples in which his predecessors broke the American directive and made crucial decisions regarding the future of Israel: the declaration of independence in 1948, starting the Six Day War in 1967 and the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981.

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The lesson was clear: Just as David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin said "no" to the White House, Netanyahu also needs not be alarmed by President Obama's opposition to an attack on Iran. Netanyahu believes that, as in the previous incidents, the U.S. may grumble at first, but will then quickly adopt the Israeli position and provide Israel with support and backing in the international community.

If Netanyahu had submitted his speech as a term paper to his father the history professor, he would have received a very poor grade. In 1948, the U.S. State Department, headed by George Marshall, opposed the declaration of independence and supported a United Nations trusteeship for Palestine. But President Truman had other considerations.

Like Obama today, Truman was also a democratic president contending for his reelection, who needed the support of the Jewish voters and donors. Under those circumstances, Truman rejected Marshall's advice, and listened to his political adviser Clark Clifford, who pressured him to recognize the Zionist state. And indeed, Truman sent a telegram with an official recognition of Israel just 11 minutes after Ben-Gurion finished reading the Scroll of Independence. The U.S. opposition to the recognition of Israel was halted at the desk of the president, who repelled the explanations by the Secretary of State and the "Arabists" in his office.

In 1967, the official U.S. position called on Israel to hold back and refrain from going to war, but a different message was passing through the secret channels: go "bomb Nasser," reported Levi Eshkol's envoys to Washington, Meir Amit and Avraham Harman. This message tipped the scales in favor of going to war. In 1981, Begin did not bother asking the Americans their opinion before attacking Iraq, but lulled them to sleep and launched a surprise attack.

In these past incidents, Israel acted against the U.S. position formally, but made sure that the Americans will accept the results of the action and support it in retrospect. And indeed, the U.S. recognized Israel in 1948, allowed it to control the territories annexed in 1967, and made do with weak condemnations of the attack on the Iraq nuclear reactor in 1981.

That being the case, then Netanyahu is hinting that in his Washington visit, he received Obama's tacit approval for an Israeli attack against Iran – under the guise of opposition. Obama will speak out against it but act for it, just as the past U.S. administrations speak against the settlements in the territories but allow their expansion. And in this manner Netanyahu summarized the visit: "I presented before my hosts the examples that I just noted before you, and I believe that the first objective that I presented – to fortify the recognition of Israel's right to defend itself – I think that objective has been achieved."

This morning, the editor-in-chief of the Israel Hayom newspaper, Amos Regev, published on his front page an enthusiastic op-ed in support of a war against Iran. Regev writes what Netanyahu cannot say in his speeches: that we cannot rely on Obama – who wasn't even a mechanic in the armored corps - but only on ourselves. "Difficult, daring, but possible," Regev promised. We need not be alarmed by the Iranian response: the arrow would take down the Shahab missiles, and Hezbollah and Hamas would hesitate about entering a war. The damage would be reminiscent of the Iraqi scuds in the 1991 Gulf War - unpleasant, but definitely not too bad. The analysts are weak, but the soldiers and the residents of the Home Front have motivation. So onward, to battle!

To use Netanyahu's "duck allegory", what looks like a preparation for war, acts like a preparation for war, and quacks like a preparation for war, is a preparation for war, and not just a "bluff" or a diversion tactic. Until his trip to Washington, Netanyahu and his supporters in the media refrained from such explicit wording and made do with hints. But since he's been back, Netanyahu has issued an emergency call-up for himself and the Israeli public.