Before Attacking Iran, Israel Should Stop Shooting Itself in the Foot

A future commission of inquiry will find that Israeli leaders failed to stock up on strategic reserves of international support.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

International support is a strategic component of national security for most countries, and for Israel even more so. Fighting for its existence, isolated in its own neighborhood, confronted by powerful alliances and perennially on the defensive in international forums, for most of its 65 years, Israel has been skirmishing on every front in order to secure every friend it can get.

So you would think that in advance of a possible military attack to neutralize an Iranian threat that they describe as existential, Israeli leaders would be doing their utmost to shore up as much international support as they possibly can. You would assume that Israeli policy-makers know as well as anyone else, or even better, that the most successful military attack won’t stop Iran’s nuclear drive unless it is followed by strong international pressure on the Tehran regime. You would surmise that Israeli leaders know full well that whoever attacks Iran, Israel or the U.S. or both, it is Israel that will be blamed by public opinion everywhere for the fallout and the havoc and the turmoil and the economic mayhem that will be caused.

So you would reckon that while the military commanders are formulating plans and replenishing stockpiles, Israel’s political leaders would be busy gathering international support and accumulating reserves of goodwill in advance of an upcoming campaign. And you would conclude that the enormity of the dangers and the challenges that lay ahead would eclipse any and all other considerations and would forge a single-minded political and diplomatic effort aimed at one thing and one thing only: preparing Israel for what is often described as the most formidable challenge it has faced since the country was born.

Well, you might think all of the above, but you would be wrong.

In fact, it sometimes seems as if Israeli policymakers couldn’t care less. How else can one understand Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to deride the Obama Administration’s efforts against Iran’s nuclear efforts while Mitt Romney stands smiling by his side? Is this really the right time for an Israeli leader to be perceived, as Fred Barnes wrote in the conservative Weekly Standard on Sunday, as “giving every indication that he wants Romney to defeat Obama?”

What rational explanation is there for the fact that Netanyahu and others in the Israeli government have made no effort whatsoever to dispel the widespread notion that they are rooting for a Romney victory, when there is a at least a 50% chance – 72%, according to the New York Times’ widely respected Nate Silver - that it will be Obama who will be called upon, before, during and after November, to stand up in Israel’s defense? And why is it that at a time of such great national peril, Israel has made no effort to blunt the Republican attempt to turn Israel into a “wedge issue” with which to pry Jewish voters away from the Democrats, even though this divisiveness alienates a large part of America’s liberal elites and Democratic voters?

And the same bewilderment holds true for Europe and the settlements. One can support settlements or one can view them as “a cancer that is eating us”, as New Israel Fund President Brian Lurie said in a recent interview - but one cannot simply wish away the criticism and the frustration that Israel’s settlement policies spark in most Western European countries, that are, as Israel itself concedes, a critical lynchpin in any international front against Iran.

So you would think, wouldn’t you, that in the lead up to a possible attack on Iran, Israel would refrain from thumbing its nose at Europe and would tone down its condemnations of European statements that criticize the settlements. You would assume that Israel would try to signal to the world that it understands that focusing on Iran’s centrifuges and enriched uranium is more important right now than building a new neighborhood in Beit El or Efrat or wherever. You would presume that Israeli policymakers understand that in order to nurture support and goodwill in European capitals, one needs to take their sensitivities into account as well; that you cannot demand the world of the international community and give it nothing in return; that self-righteous indignation is no substitute for a confidence building dialogue.

Well, once again, you might think that, but you would be wrong.

Because Israel, to paraphrase a famous Yitzhak Rabin quote, is preparing for war with Iran as if it has stellar international credentials and is maintaining its international image as if it does not foresee any conflict with Iran. It appears incapable of setting priorities or of denying itself instant political gratification.

Thus, Israel bars five non-aligned foreign ministers from entering the West Bank - as if this is the most opportune time to exacerbate relations with Third World countries that, true, might never support Israel outright, but whose opposition to its policies, especially if a bloody conflict erupts in the Gulf, can and should be tempered.

And it dismantles a national unity government that was received positively throughout the world, a mere few weeks after it was established, and for petty political reasons.

And although the countdown may have begun, it fails to appoint a foreign minister who is respected in foreign capitals and who has the ear of his or her colleagues throughout the world.

And it pits itself publicly against any and all change in the very same Arab countries that share its fear of Tehran.

And the list goes on and on.

Israel’s ability to take on Iran and to live with the consequences of such a bold move would be strengthened immeasurably if it had spent the past year or two winning friends and influencing people rather than needlessly antagonizing much of the international community.

The world’s support and understanding is no less vital to Israel’s strategic needs than bunker-busting mega-bombs or sophisticated surface-to-surface missiles, but one can already summarize the findings of a future commission of inquiry, which will no doubt find that Israeli leaders did not do enough, when they still could, to adequately prepare the country’s diplomatic defenses.

Jerusalem is constantly on guard against foreign governments that do not seem to be taking the Iranian threat seriously enough. Israeli leaders, from the prime minister on down, excel in preaching to others that there is no greater threat to Western civilization, and that responsible countries should conduct themselves accordingly.

Strong words, indeed: perhaps these same leaders might look themselves in the mirror every now and then and consider practicing what they preach. If it isn’t too late, that is.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

Demonstration in Israel against bombing Iran.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 29, 2012.Credit: Reuters



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