Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the UN General Assembly Tuesday night very different from his previous ones: It lacked reproach, gimmicks and thrills. The arguments were factual and germane. Passion was kept at bay. It was clear that the Israeli statesman speaking to a thinly populated hall in New York, and to an anemic American public opinion, was a sad statesman. Once again, Bibi was telling the truth. Once again Bibi was analyzing the strategic situation precisely. But this time even he didn’t believe that someone would listen to him. He didn’t even try to score an emotional goal and conquer the audience. In almost morosely quiet tones he said what he had to say to a world that refused to listen.
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Netanyahu arrived very late to the United Nations - after Iranian President Hassan Rohani defined the arena, after the international community chose to believe Rohani, after the United States sank deeply into domestic crisis. Netanyahu arrived in the United States very late. After America had begun treating Israel like an old-fashioned Taiwan that was heaping obstacles in the way of the romance heating up with a rising Eastern power. And so Netanyahu was such a different Netanyahu than the Netanyahu of the past. After the will-he-attack/won’t-he-attack drama seemed to have dissipated, he is not being taken seriously. After the smiling Rohani stole the show from him, Netanyahu is yesterday’s news. Even his Republican friends are preoccupied with matters decidedly un-Churchillian. Not to mention his Democratic adversaries. Not to mention the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese. Only the Sunni Arabs are left on the side of the Israeli prime minister. Only those pro-American neighbors who despair of America are full partners to Bibi’s existential anxiety over Iran.
Make no mistake: Beneath Netanyahu’s undramatic speech hides great drama. The plot is not fading, it is thickening. What Netanyahu said yesterday is that it’s all or nothing. Either a major deal with the Iranians, or an Israeli action. There will be no partial deal, Israel’s prime minister said. Either sanctions or us. Either the international community pushes Iran to the wall, or Israel will strike. Whether credible or not, the Israeli military threat made a major comeback in New York on Tuesday. The Iranian season has returned.
There were three chilling moments in Netanyahu’s speech. The moment the speaker described his grandfather, beaten senseless by European anti-Semites; the moment the speaker made clear that if Israel is forced to stand alone, it will stand alone; and the moment the speaker quoted the prophet Amos. For a change, the high point of Bibi’s speech was in fact its Hebrew point. If the ancient people living in Iran have any sort of doubt about it, they should carefully read the ancient words of the leader of an ancient people living in Zion: “And I will plant them upon their soil never to be uprooted again.” The people of Israel have come home never to be uprooted again, Netanyahu said – and he meant every word. All or nothing, he said. All or nothing.