Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has orchestrated Mitt Romney's visit to Israel to fall out on Tisha B'av, when Jews around the world fast to mark the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Netanyahu has cautioned us often, albeit in a general manner, about an upcoming catastrophe. But those warnings seem to be more accurate when taking into account the actual historic events that led to the Second Temples' destruction - when an extremist Jewish messianic regime confronted a superpower, and thereby brought tragedy to the people of Israel.
It's easy to be fed up with Netanyahu. At least, it's easy for liberal Israelis. It's easy as well for Barack Obama. It's easy when Netanyahu's patron, Sheldon Adelson, serves as the largest funder of the anti-Obama campaign; when Israel establishes a university in the territories precisely at a moment when it needs American support; when an Israeli government that is supposedly casting itself as a moderate force facing religious extremism dissolves its unity alignment, strengthening the state's religious lawmakers - all this encourages the fed up feelings.
As in the case of the destruction of the Second Temple, at a point in time when internal and external support for the State of Israel should be cultivated, Netanyahu has chosen instead to rely on the extremists. These include the religious-right camp in Israel and the Jewish right in the United States, as well as messianic evangelicals who await the Armageddon in Israel as a necessary apocalyptic event that they believe must precede the return of Jesus.
It's easy to be fed up with Netanyahu, but this is a time for cooler heads to prevail. America has no obligation to save Israel - not from itself nor from its enemies. Yet the issue of a war with Iran is not an internal Israeli question, and it does not have anything to do with like or dislike for Netanyahu. It is a global question fraught with implications. It is a question from which an incumbent, reelection-seeking U.S. president cannot hide.
The point should be stated clearly: Israel is not especially eager to attack Iran. Apart from two people, Tzachi Hanegbi and perhaps Netanyahu, there is not a single Israeli who is keen on attacking. Ehud Barak is certainly not eager. Such an attack would normally have to be justified both in abstract principle and practical terms. Barak has cited as a threshold point the moment when the Iranian nuclear project would not be derailed by a unilateral Israeli strike. The problem is that Israel has already reached this threshold. The Israel Air Force operations assessment unit, which provides the official evaluation of the potential damage of any military operation, has determined that an Israeli strike would set Teheran back only one year. Barak has quoted this assessment. And its implication is clear: on its own, Israel would be unable to thwart or significantly delay the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb. That's the fact.
Thus, under current circumstances, it's not a choice between bombing or a bomb. Because if Israel attacks on its own, there will still be an Iranian bomb. Israel is now completely dependent upon the continued American and western military and diplomatic campaigns if it is to stop Iran's nuclear program. That's a bitter reality.
In light of this, a visit by Barack Obama in September, before the Jewish new year, poses no risk to his leadership or to his political future. Just the opposite, in fact. Most of Israel's establishment is looking for a reason to delay the decision to bomb Iran unilaterally. If an Obama visit were to come along with more significant sanctions and a stern U.S. presidential pledge to use all necessary measures to stop Iran's nuclear intentions, it would suffice.
Following a U.S. presidential visit, Israel would not launch a unilateral strike before November. Should Israel ultimately decide that it must launch a last-minute strike, it would still be possible, operationally, to do it next year, should it become clear to everyone that Iran's nuclear program has not been brought to a halt. And while such an attack would only delay the progress of Iran's nuclear program for less than a year - since Israel is already dependant on a U.S. follow up campaign – the United States could flex its military-diplomatic muscle and put a permanent end to the program.
Should President Obama choose to stay out of the quagmire and not come here, and send his ministers instead, it is highly likely that at the end of the summer - at some point during the 40-day stretch between the last week of August and the first week of October - Israel will launch an attack.
No. We are not talking here about a bluff designed to pressure others. Nor is it absolute delirium. The cool composure maintained by the American government, which believes it's avoiding a trap set by Israelis who are crying wolf, is completely erroneous.
For Netanyahu, every day is Tisha B'av. He lives with a perpetual, historic sense that we are on the verge of another Holocaust. That's how he grew up. It's not an act. As Netanyahu genuinely sees him, the U.S. president is not a friend of Israel. This way of thinking is leading the prime minister to a catastrophic decisions. As the United States heads into elections, maybe I can drag Obama and the American liberals into a war, he thinks. It might be my only chance. At least we'll try; we won't be led by them to tragedy, like sheep to slaughter.
Should Obama remain in Washington, he will be able to escape neither responsibility for, nor the consequences of, an Israeli attack. He should take an anti-nausea pill, and announce that he's coming in September.
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