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In UN Speech, Netanyahu Pitches Iran as Key Selling Point for Early Israeli Elections

Haaretz political analyst Yossi Verter says PM prepared the ground not only for a possible Israeli strike on Iran next spring, but also for his own election campaign as soon as February.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Toward the middle of his UN address, which was the usual perfect blend of excellent English, polished presentation and theatrical style, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started to look a little bit distracted. He kept casting nervous looks to his right, fumbling in his pocket and looking again and again at the paper in front of him.

The reason for this seeming loss of concentration quickly became clear, when Netanyahu displayed to all a cute drawing of a bomb with a fuse, that looked like it was copied from an American comic book or from a Walt Disney cartoon. Thus he chose to illustrate to the world the Iranian problem as he sees it: with a drawing of a bomb divided into three stages of development, and a red marker which he used to draw a fat red line before the final stage.

If I may paraphrase the well-known comment from the theater world about making sure a gun introduced in the first act is fired by the third, one could say after Netanyahu's address to the United Nation's General Assembly: A bomb introduced in the middle of the speech is liable to blow up, or be blown up, at the end.

Thursday's speech also had political ramifications that presumably were not lost on the speaker: If, at the start of the Knesset's winter session in around two weeks, Netanyahu calls for early elections (probably in February ) it's clear that the election campaign will be centered on the Iranian threat. In an election campaign that has a security-diplomatic, even existential character, less experienced politicians or political wannabes like Labor's Shelly Yacimovich and Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, who are pushing a socio-economic agenda, will find themselves in terra incognita, with little to sell the public.

In his speech, Netanyahu prepared the ground not only for a possible Israeli strike on Iran next spring, but for an election campaign that will be dubbed "the most fateful since the establishment of the state." Netanyahu will tell the Israeli voters, as he already began to Thursday, that in this matter, you have no one to rely on, not even our Father in Heaven, except for me.

Netanyahu directed his address not at U.S. President Barack Obama, who is as proficient in the intelligence information as he is, but to the American people, people who don't have the patience for long words or in-depth discussions of centrifuges and enriched uranium and detonators. So he did what he does best: He took a complex, amorphous topic and made it simpler, more tangible, more easily absorbed and understood.

This has always been Netanyahu's tactic, whether it was a press conference at the Finance Ministry ("the fat man and the thin man" ), or at a briefing on the proposed reform to the Israel Lands Administration ("How long does it take to enclose a balcony" ). He did it at the United Nations on Thursday.

Was this an effective exercise or was it ridiculous? Helpful or harmful? It's too early to tell. What's certain is that no one can ignore his address, even if they'd want to. Those who enjoy re-editing Netanyahu's appearances into humorous videos that go viral will probably have a field day with this one.

But the ostensibly comic interlude that we witnessed yesterday at the General Assembly didn't make us laugh. It was black humor. Nuclear humor. And it certainly ought not distract us from the fact that Netanyahu, for the first time in public, unequivocally set the summer of 2013 as the last chance to stop the Iranian nuke before it's too late.

If anyone had any doubts, Thursday they were put to rest: Benjamin Netanyahu, for as long as he is the Israeli prime minister, will not agree to accept a nuclear Iran.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations HQ in 2012.Credit: AP



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