The Top 5 Times Israeli Policy Shot Itself in the Foot

Jerusalem's growl in response to the Iranian charm offensive is just the latest episode in classic Israeli PR boomerangs.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

To shoot oneself in the foot (idiomatic): To unintentionally act against one's own interests. To be the author of one's own doom.

Some people suffer from what you might call "Unintentional Self-Destruction Syndrome." It isn't that they hate themselves: they just seem to constantly say the wrong thing, overreact to some inconsequential remark, get into a fight with a bartender the day before an important job interview. That sort of thing.

Countries can also behave self-destructively. And Israel's losing battle against Iran's recent charm offensive is a textbook example of acute USDS. Sometimes it seems as if Israel isn't just shooting itself in the foot, it's using a machine gun. Here are the top five times it seems to have done that very thing.

2013: Iran presents Operation Smiley

Remember when Iran was considered a nuke-crazed, mullah-infested, totalitarian, extremist, Holocaust-denying mad dog?

How then did it happen that suddenly the president of United States and his Iranian counterpart are chatting by phone while the Israeli prime minister seems to be climbing uphill on his lonesome?

To the Iranians' credit, their approach has been brilliant. All they did was be upbeat. Smile to the press. Speak of peace and show signs of liberalization. They knew the West would lap it up and that Israel would be isolated.

Not a few pundits – even U.S. president Barack Obama himself - acknowledge that Israel has a point. Yet nobody wants to hear it, let alone acknowledge its merits.

As Tehran kicked off its peppy new diplomacy, Israel neglected the cardinal rule of polite society: when somebody smiles at you – smile back. When your enemy reaches out a hand, shake it, especially when the world is watching. Nobody likes a sourpuss.

The icing on the cake came from former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (who else?) who "reminded" the rest of the world that Israel "also" acted alone in 1981, when it attacked Iraq's nuclear reactor. No question about it - hinting that you might launch a military strike when the other side is talking peace is nothing short of a diplomatic strategy coup.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer.
Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN on Oct. 1, 2013: Israel would stand alone if it had to, the PM said.
A crowd greets the Mavi Marmama, the lead ship of the 'Gaza flotilla,' upon its return to Istanbul, Dec. 26, 2010.
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Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer. Credit: Bloomberg
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Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN on Oct. 1, 2013: Israel would stand alone if it had to, the PM said.Credit: Reuters
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A crowd greets the Mavi Marmama, the lead ship of the 'Gaza flotilla,' upon its return to Istanbul, Dec. 26, 2010.Credit: AP

Israel just might be the best publicist Iran has ever had.

2013: Naming a governor to the Bank of Israel

So, Israel was losing its superstar central bank governor, Stanley Fischer, who had lent credibility to the Israeli economic establishment. Netanyahu wanted somebody who would also command the world's respect.

The prime minister he tapped Jacob Frenkel, who'd already headed the Bank of Israel twice and had held leading executive positions at JP Morgan and AIG. Frenkel was also quite the frequenter of the World Economic Forum.

Sad to relate, Frenkel withdrew his candidacy at the last minute following allegations that years before, he'd been caught shoplifting a garment bag in a Hong Kong airport. The next candidate, Leo Leiderman, bowed out of the race almost immediately following allegations of sexual harassment. Two months later the central bank remains leaderless and bereft.

The aim had been to inspire confidence in Israel's economy. The series of events made it a laughing stock.

2010: Attack on the Gaza flotilla

On May 22, 2010, a flotilla sailed out of Istanbul's Sarayburnu port, heading for Gaza. Israel was worried about the ramifications of letting it break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, not to mention also saw it as a direct provocation in support of Hamas (and a potential arms shipment). Israeli forces raided the six ships and forced them to the port of Ashdod.

Nine Turkish activists were killed during the raid and ten Israeli commandos were wounded.

Israel had feared a media storm if it allowed the Gaza blockade to be broken. What Israel created was a media hurricane that tattered its image and worldwide standing.

Israeli-Turkish relations had already been rocky and suffered terrible damage, which has yet to be repaired.

1992: Israel sets out to ruin Hezbollah by killing its leader

Once upon a time Hezbollah was run by Abbas al-Musawi, who was assassinated by Israeli forces in 1992 in an attempt to destroy the movement.

Instead of Musawi, Israel got Nasrallah and Hezbollah only became more extremist, better-armed and much fiercer.

1954: The Lavon affair, a.k.a. "The Bad Business"

A golden oldie. In the early 1950s Israel tried to dissuade the British government from withdrawing military forces from Egypt. How? Israel recruited Egyptian Jews to plant bombs inside Egyptian, British and American targets, so as to prove the nationalist president Nasser couldn't maintain order.

The spies were captured. The plan failed. The turmoil following "The Bad Business" led to the resignation of Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon; Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, was also spattered with the mud.

Britain did withdraw from the Suez Canal in the end. But it took years for Israel to mend its shattered relations with the U.S. and Britain.

President Hassan Rohani in New York, September 26, 2013.Credit: Reuters


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