An overshadowed nuclear threat
But the real threat is that in all the maneuvering and focus on aid flotillas, Israel has let the Iranian nuclear threat become overshadowed.
It's hard not to be impressed by the international activity of recent days. European leaders are having rushed discussions, three Arab leaders and an American president are involved, and congressmen are using their contacts. And of course, the Israel Defense Forces is carrying out tense planning. It would seem that only the effort to rally international support for sanctions on Iran could compare to this new international ruckus.
Except this time the fight is not against Iran's nuclear plans, and it's not against Lebanon or Syria. It's only against an Iranian aid ship and three yachts that planned to head toward the Gaza Strip. This is the new existential threat facing Israel, and it is coming from Gaza's waters. Suddenly, Lebanon too has doomsday weapons. That same minnow whose army operates a few dozen antiquated armored vehicles and uses a few toy helicopters is threatening Israel with aid ships to Gaza.
And Iran? Here too it turns out that it is not the nuclear program, but the conventional clash between Israeli ships and an Iranian vessel that may provoke a world war. The country that was hit by UN sanctions and is on the verge of being punished by Congress can spark a regional conflagration under the nose of sanctions.
But the real threat is that in all the maneuvering and focus on aid flotillas, Israel has let the Iranian nuclear threat become overshadowed. The imposition of sanctions on Iran may be an achievement for U.S. President Barack Obama, but it is not enough to stop uranium enrichment. Worse yet, along with the sanctions we are entering a waiting period of an indeterminable length. And in the foreseeable future it is hard to expect any new international movement against Iran.
Israel should have entered this vacuum to prevent the Iranian threat from being forgotten. But Israel is running around the world looking like the bad guy. Its security arguments in favor of the siege on Gaza crashed after it was forced, after the flotilla affair, to allow a breach in the siege. Trust in its security argument about Gaza has suffered such a stiff blow that the result has begun to affect its ability to continue marketing the Iranian threat.
But Israel is still convinced it is capable of selling anything as long it is well packaged. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are pulling out of their pile of junk the tested medicine against lack of trust: the peace process. One prefers to conduct negotiations with Syria and the other is begging for direct talks with the Palestinians. When the world is against Israel, or when Israeli law-enforcement authorities are looking into the actions of their leaders, the peace process is used like a hypnotists' locket. Dialogue with Syria, chatting about the West Bank and Jerusalem - anything as long as there is no talk about an international committee of inquiry, the siege on Gaza or the fiasco at sea.
And thus, once more, lies the paradox and the lie in Israel's policy. After all, this government rejects the American theory that there is any link between Arab-Israeli peace and the ability to stop Iran. It of course does not consider the Arab states allies against Iran. Such an alliance would require it to pull out of the territories so it can deal with the existential threat posed by Iran. In the government's view, better an Iranian bomb than political suicide.
And thus, because of the flotilla, the government finds itself in a position where it actually has to push the peace process forward so it can show its face to the international community and demand the end of the Iranian nuclear program. This appears to be a positive development. The government finally recognizes that peace with the Palestinians and Syria is of strategic value, something that can determine the international effort against the Iranian threat. Even if Iran is not impressed by the effort, at least this policy will substantially diminish the Arab threat on Israel.
But this logic comes, as usual, with an asterisk pointing to a warning. The call for resuming the peace process is only a stage in the effort to rehabilitate an image. The defense minister in charge of the failed policy in Gaza does not really intend to pull back from the Golan, and the prime minister in charge of drawing out the negotiations with the Palestinians continues to build in East Jerusalem. Don't be confused. It's not a nuclear Iran that's frightening, it's the face in the mirror.