Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a strong and persuasive speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. He presented an unambiguous indictment of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and submitted clear cut evidence of President Rohani’s efforts to cover it up. His argument was succinct, his testimony convincing, his delivery eloquent, as always.
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And he even ended with a newsy punch-line: Israel will defend itself against a nuclear-capable Iran, even it has to do so by itself.
Netanyahu remained true to his credo, faithful to his beliefs, anchored in his axioms. He dug in his heels against the prevailing winds and refused to back away from the role hoisted on him as party-pooper-in-chief of the ongoing celebrate-Iran festivities. Your new darling, Hassan Rohani, he told Western leaders and opinion makers – especially President Obama – is pulling the wool over your eyes. It’s as clear as day, and the proof is there, for all to see.
This was not a speech that will find favor with those who harbor high hopes that Rohani’s recent diplomatic overtures were more than a cynical ploy. It did not get high grades from others, like J-Street, who felt that Netanyahu should have devoted more time and attention to the Palestinians. It probably even peeved some of those who are charged with promoting Israel’s image, because his ominous warnings belie their carefully cultivated image of Israel as a carefree start-up nation with nary a concern.
Netanyahu’s belligerent speech, in fact, actually corroborated Rohani’s assertion that Israel is the “chief agitator” against Iran, using its magic Jewish powers to incite the entire Western world against Tehran. If and when nuclear talks with Iran break down and the West reverts to increased sanctions and threats of military escalation, Netanyahu’s speech will serve as the Iranian prosecution’s Exhibit Number One.
Netanyahu, his aides said later, believes that his speech will have a ripple effect that will slowly make its way into Western hearts and minds. They cite “scores of ambassadors” who came to shake his hand at the end of his speech. They claim that the prime minister will drive home his message in the two days he has left in New York in scores of interviews that will somehow miraculously overcome the wall of media coverage that is now being devoted almost exclusively to the Federal government’s shutdown.
Hope springs eternal, of course, even in the highest echelons of government. For now, however, the signs are pointing in the opposite direction. Because with the exception of the warm Israeli cheerleading section that imported to the makeshift hall in which the United General Assembly was held this year, Netanyahu’s speech actually raises the old philosophical quandary about the tree that falls in a forest with no one there to hear it. It may even qualify one day for the title of “The Speech that Never Was”, delivered in an atmosphere that somehow evoke images of forlorn Texan towns like those in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 classic “The Last Picture Show”.
In the streets and avenues leading up to the UN building on the East River, it was already clear the ball has long been over: the barricades were gone, the policemen were relaxed, the satellite trucks had moved elsewhere, the tension and anticipation of the first few days, when Rohani was in town, had all but dissipated. Inside the hall only a fraction of the fatigued foreign diplomats remained to hear Netanyahu, the last head of the state on the agenda, and even they seemed mainly anxious to go home and get back to their normal lives.
The situation in the media, where Netanyahu hopes to make an impact, wasn’t much better. A few hours after the US government had shut down many of its operations, with news networks anxiously breaking to their reporters in the Rose Garden where President Obama was set to make a statement; it was hard to drum up too much interest, not to mention excitement and buzz, over Netanyahu’s strident speech at the UN.
Because in the end, the Israeli prime minister gave the speech that everyone expected him to make, and, much to the media’s disappointment, he didn’t even bother this time to come up with an eye-catching gimmick for visuals. This was the core Netanyahu, the real deal, the authentic Bibi, peddling the same merchandise that he has carried with him for the past 30 years, ever since he served as Ambassador to the UN in the mid-1980’s.
Netanyahu feels vindicated. His warnings have come true, his recommendations are delivering results. But there’s nothing much he can do about the fact that it is Rohani who is the new kid in town, it is Ruhani who is generating excitement and curiosity, and it is Rohani who the “it” foreign leader of 2013.
Netanyahu, for the time being, is stuck on the sidelines, waiting for a fall.