Netanyahu and Obama during a meeting at the White House.
Netanyahu and Obama during a meeting at the White House. Photo by Avi Ohayon
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The reason behind the timing of a possible attack on Iran is one big act of deception.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak says that if Israel were to act now against U.S. wishes, the U.S. Congress would still favor Israel over Iran. Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says the American people and Congress would support Israel right now if it were engaged in a war with Iran.

This is deception. During Israel's 1981 pinpoint attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor and during the first Lebanon war in 1982 - both of which took place under a right-wing Israeli government, though the leadership benefited from the perception that its leadership was moderate because of its peace treaty with Egypt - all Israel needed was for the right-wing American administrations not to oppose its actions too strongly. The difference is that unlike now, this country did not have an existential need for America to continue the mission that Israel began.

Whether deliberately or not, Netanyahu's settlement government is misleading people and making them think that Washington's decision to refrain from intervening, to Israel's detriment, in the 1980s, or against the settlements today, is somehow similar to dragging the United States and other Western countries into taking proactive steps for the sake of an otherwise isolated Israel. Just because Syrian President Bashar Assad is, for the meantime, preventing the West from mobilizing armies against him doesn't mean the West will go in to help him. Netanyahu's Israel is not as much of a pariah as Assad's Syria, but its dependence on America's taking up the Iran mission itself is so great as to be almost necessary for its survival.

This is a failure that undermines the foundations of Israeli security. Precisely when Israel most needs a close alliance with the U.S. government, Netanyahu is doing his utmost to undercut it.

The root of the problem is twofold: policy that is seen in the West as extremist, and an unprecedented attempt to interfere in domestic U.S. politics. If someone had told us about a country whose leader allows himself to be seen as explicitly attempting to oust the president of a world power, we wouldn't believe it. When the leader of that small country is the head of a quasi-protectorate that is sustained by that world power - financially, militarily and politically - that initial astonishment morphs into shock. The fact that this is taking place just as the small country is dependent on the help of the world power for a military project it cannot fully carry out alone makes this one of the most unrealistic scenarios in history.

Israel has an existential interest in waiting until the spring before deciding whether to attack Iran, as indicated by the opposition of leaders of the security establishment to an attack now. Israel would achieve no more than a delay of up to a year in the Iranian nuclear project, and that's why it depends on the United States to take the reins. By spring, international sanctions may have had an impact on Iran and, if not, the United States may act in any case. By the spring, Assad may have been ousted and the map of strategic threats dramatically changed for the better, from Israel's perspective.

Of particular relevance to those who aren't enthusiastic about U.S. President Barack Obama, the spring may bring his Republican rival Mitt Romney to power. And most important of all: By the spring, Israel will have been granted legitimacy for taking action, legitimacy that is crucial for the country's survival.

But Netanyahu's personal interests are diametrically opposed to those of the country he leads.

In the United States, his expressed interest in attacking Iran is seen as part of his effort to bring about Obama's defeat. Americans fear Netanyahu's effort to drag the United States into war against its will, as well as attempts to raise gas prices as a means of kicking Obama out of the White House in November because of the economy. Even the attempt to extort another public statement from Obama - he intends to pledge once again to stop Iran - is seen as an effort to publicly humiliate him, which makes it difficult to issue such pledges.

In private conversations, Netanyahu has said there is nothing after Election Day, which falls on November 6. If Obama wins, Netanyahu says, he will take revenge for the overt efforts to defeat him and will prevent Netanyahu from attacking Iran. For this reason, and only this reason, Netanyahu must go on the offensive over Iran now - some reliable sources say he will probably do it during the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina next week - when the timing is the worst for Israel. That's the price of getting portrayed as being a member of the Romney-Netanyahu-Sheldon Adelson trinity.

This is the most reckless of all breaches of trust, and Netanyahu - not Israel - must pay the price of taking the risk. Netanyahu must wait for the U.S. elections. If he loses his bet and Obama wins, Netanyahu should be so kind as to resign. The soldiers and citizens of Israel shall not be sacrificed on the altar of Netanyahu's bets.