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Israelis Reveling in Iran Deal's Downfall Forget Euphoria Is Often a Prelude to Disaster

For now, however, Bibi is king, Trump is God and the nation’s testosterone runneth over

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes part in a wreath laying ceremony marking Russia's Victory Day on May 9, 2018 in Moscow.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes part in a wreath laying ceremony marking Russia's Victory Day on May 9, 2018 in Moscow. Credit: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

In Israel these days, Benjamin Netanyahu is king and Donald Trump is a god. Adrenaline is flowing through the nation’s veins and testosterone could soon spill over. Netanyahu is running the world, his admirers crow, and Trump is the macho-man behind him. “The American President showed global leadership with giant balls,” according to Arieh Amit, a retired senior police officer, and Israelis are strutting their stuff proudly.

And that’s not all. After the U.S. essentially violated the Iran nuclear deal and following the massive Israel Air Force attack early Thursday morning on Iranian installations in Syria, the new U.S. Embassy will be inaugurated next week, perhaps in keeping with the prescient saying of ancient Jewish sages: “And the gates of Jerusalem are destined to reach Damascus.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has already named a square in Jerusalem in honor of our savior Trump, while Third Temple enthusiasts minted a coin bearing the likeness of Trump against the backdrop of Cyrus the Persian emperor, the only gentile to be dubbed “a king messiah” in the bible. I will “subdue nations before him”, God promised through his prophet Isaiah, and, in what could make Trump even happier, will give him “hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places,” that might even exceed the generous “contributions” of Trump’s Russian oligarchs.

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With these two dramatic decisions, the withdrawal from the deal and the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Trump is not only fulfilling his role in the Talmudic “beginning of redemption”, he is reflecting the very essence of today’s “Israeliness”. Not only is Trump instituting the most pro-Israeli U.S. policies in the history of relations between the two countries, he is doing so while personifying the traits that Israelis, some would say unfortunately, admire most. He speaks the blunt “dugri” that Israelis cherish, denigrates diplomacy, ignores international norms and conventions, cares nothing for the UN and torments those anti-Semitic but nonetheless spineless Europeans. He is embracing the traditional Israeli maxim that “Arabs understand only force” and expanding it to include Muslims as a whole, especially the ayatollahs in Tehran.

In this respect, one can even assert that in his audacity, outspokenness, shooting from the hip and even unapologetic male chauvinism, Trump is embodying “Israeliness” more than Netanyahu himself. The world may be amazed at the degree of influence that Netanyahu wields over the U.S. President, but their relations are more a symbiosis than a one-way street. Since Trump came to power, Netanyahu has become grumpier, more victimized, more cock-sure of his policies and more convinced that he and the state he leads are one and the same. Netanyahu may have tutored Trump on eternal Jerusalem and the diabolical Iranians, but he has adopted in return an ego that knows no bounds, unwavering assaults on “fake news” media, shameless battles against the rule of law - especially his own investigators - and possibly a gambler’s penchant to take unwarranted risks.

As things stand this weekend, even the harshest critics of the dynamic U.S.-Israeli duo would have to admit that they seem to be hitting the jackpot. Netanyahu’s long and hard slog to derail the Iran nuclear deal is finally paying off and Washington is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel against the Iranian enemy. The predictions that the revocation of the Iran deal would have a chilling effect on Trump’s efforts to rein in North Korea also appear unfounded: The President reveled in a welcome ceremony for the three Americans held in Pyongyang on Thursday and then announced that his summit with Kim Jong Un would take place in Singapore on June 12. Contrary to analyses based on such archaic concepts as experience and knowledge, one can still maintain that the Israeli euphoria is well-justified and not the deluded confidence of someone falling from a top floor asserting on their way down, “So far, so good.

Such is the state of current Israeli public opinion that in a Wednesday night poll released by Channel 2, a whopping 62% said that the U.S. abandonment of the Iran deal is good for Israel, against a measly 17% who said that it wasn’t. The poll also showed that Netanyahu and his Likud Party could get 35 Knesset seats, compared to their current 30, if elections were held today. Netanyahu, however, is well aware that public opinion can be fickle, that its approval could be here today and gone tomorrow and that the higher he climbs, the harder he could fall.

In August 1982, a few weeks after Israel launched the first Lebanon War, the public enthusiastically supported the incursion; the opposition, then as now, was cowered into silence and the few brave souls who dared defy the collective elation were denounced as back-stabbing traitors. The polls predicted that Menachem Begin’s Likud would garner close to 60 seats in the Knesset, a virtual hegemony, but then came Sabra and Shatila, the gradual embroilment of the Israeli army in the Lebanese quagmire and the birth of Hezbollah. When elections were finally held two years later, the Likud lost its majority to Labor, was forced to set up a national unity government and looked on with a broken heart as Shimon Peres was sworn in as prime minister.

It was Scottish poet Robert Burns, in his poem “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785” - from which John Steinbeck took the title of his famous book - who offers the warning that should be pertinent for Israelis today: “The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!” Enough years have apparently gone by since Israeli leaders adhered to the “conception” that preceded the 1973 war, by which Egypt and Syria wouldn’t dare launch an offensive, and the arrogant promise “We’ll break their bones” uttered by the late army Chief of Staff David Elazar after hostilities broke out, for Israelis to forget that hubris, uniformity of opinion and a refusal to consider alternatives led the country to catastrophe. The fallibility of over-sophistication and the inevitable emergence of unintended consequences seem to have receded in the nation’s memory as well. One tends to forget then Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s ingenious directive in the late 1980s to nurture Hamas in order to weaken the violently nationalistic Fatah or the single errant artillery shell that killed 100 refugees in Lebanon’s Kafr Kana and brought the April 1996 Operation Grapes of Wrath - also borrowed from Steinbeck - to a grinding halt.

Grapes of Wrath itself was a direct result of the failure of the complex chain-reaction domino theory that three years earlier had underpinned Operation Accountability, by which shelling villages in South Lebanon would lead to a flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Beirut, where they would press the government to rein in Hezbollah. A no-less elaborate blueprint has accompanied Netanyahu’s pressure on Trump to renege on the Iran nuclear deal, by which the decision would create economic hardships, which would lead to widespread popular protests, which would ultimately topple the Ayatollah regime. Just as Israel’s repeated forays into Lebanon created its most implacable and threatening adversary in Hezbollah, so the current ingenious stratagem could very well pit Israel in the future against an Iran that would be even more determined, ruthless and armed to the teeth than it is today.

No one disputes that Iran poses a mortal threat to Israel’s wellbeing and hardly anyone fails to take seriously its leaders’ threat to destroy the Zionist entity. The argument is over the means, not the end. Those who supported the extension of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action believe that its harsh inspection regime was a preferable way to curtail its nuclear ambitions and thus served Israeli interests better than the chaos and bedlam and danger of all-out war that is now looming over the Middle East. The deed, however, is now done, and that train is leaving the station. While the fervent admirers of Trump and Netanyahu celebrate a victory that has yet to be achieved, critics of the two leaders can only hope and pray that their apprehensions are misplaced and that euphoria, for a change, won’t turn out to be a prelude to disaster. 

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