Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crossed the red line, acting wildly irresponsible by causing his relationship with the American president to deteriorate. He presented himself as someone who can force President Obama to do his bidding, and in doing so, overstepped the traditional boundaries, those that prevent Israeli politicians from interfering with the U.S. presidential elections. If it does turn out that we are changing our policy - the one that says that we will cooperate with whomever is elected president - we're making a serious mistake.
A president who does not want to set red lines for Iran, as Bibi Netanyahu wants, is correct. A great power will maintain ambiguity in order to have freedom of action. Everyone knows that it can exercise force - certainly it has more means to do so than we have; it doesn't have to publicly announce that fact. It certainly doesn't have to let Bibi call the shots.
It's enough for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to see the aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf in order for him to understand that the United States will choose the timing and the nature of an activity, if there is one, even without the panic being conveyed by Bibi. Obama is being portrayed as a "dove," but this is the president who spent billions on the hunt for and assassination of Osama bin Laden.
During South Africa's years of apartheid, a senior government official there told me that "if we had five million Afrikaners in America we would never have surrendered." That is the insane type of thinking that motivates right-wing extremists and the proponents of Greater Israel who support Bibi. The prime minister's conduct toward Obama could definitely be interpreted as behind-the-scenes meddling aimed at preventing Obama's election to a second term.
Obama's aides are not blind to the phenomenon called Sheldon Adelson, who is spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat the incumbent president, in favor of the Republican candidate. This is the same man who finances the free newspaper in Israel that supports Netanyahu and his views, and is indirectly responsible for the Israeli newspaper crisis. There is no shortage of presidential friends and advisers who are whispering in his ear that Bibi is inciting American Jews against him.
Nobody in the world is happy about Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. It's not only Israel's problem. Iran is building long-range missiles that cover Europe. The leaders of the European countries have reason for concern and are afraid that the Israeli initiative will drive the Iranian leaders crazy, and cause them to launch missiles in all directions in the name of Allah. The leaders of Germany, Great Britain and France, not to mention the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are rightly warning Bibi, in unequivocal terms, not to act and not to present Iran with an ultimatum.
In a full-page spread in one of the newspapers here, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James A. Winnefeld, is seen pointing out to a smiling Bibi a map that includes Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen and Turkey, as well as tiny Israel. A news editor with a macabre sense of humor would caption the photo: Look how small we are within the huge Islamic world.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is no coward. But as opposed to the impression that he is leading Bibi into battle, he has recently turned out to be the responsible adult. He is not enthusiastic about Bibi's ultimatum. "Great powers don't like ultimatums." He sees the very fact that the Iranian issue is on the world agenda as an achievement. Barak believes that our situation would be better if there were progress on the Palestinian issue. As opposed to Bibi's view, Barak also says that we could have repaired relations with Turkey a long time ago, were it not for Israel's insistence on not apologizing.
Barak claims, according to an unconfirmed rumor, that during Obama's four years, the peace process with the Palestinians was nonexistent. Every past president engaged in some type of peace-promoting activity: Bill Clinton - Oslo 2; George W. Bush - a road map and Annapolis; George Bush Sr. - the Madrid Conference. Is it possible that there is veiled criticism of Bibi in Barak's reported comment? Perhaps. If Obama does end up meeting with Bibi in America, there won't be any great love lost there.
When Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov stood next to Bibi during his official visit here, he probably recalled the Bulgarian proverb, "When God wants to punish someone, the first thing He does is take away his brains."
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