Netanyahu's Ironclad Principles Lead to Fuzzy Solutions

The prime minister fouls up every problem, from the gas in the Mediterranean to the defense budget. And of course he has isolated Israel in his handling of the Iran deal.

Bloomberg

At a seminar in December, Northern Command chief Aviv Kochavi talked about a challenge in his previous position as head of Military Intelligence. That challenge: the difficulty sending new information to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who only operated on a Persian wavelength.

“It took us time, about three years, to explain to the prime minister that the international jihad was an important issue,” Kochavi said. “We did our best, the entire MI staff.”

Netanyahu insisted on Iran, Iran, Iran at the expensive of other objectives. “Even when you convince the prime minister to develop sources for a second and third circle, I had a problem with the first circle,” Kochavi said.

Netanyahu is a pale imitation of a leader (and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, with his clumsy efforts to be portrayed as Likud lite, is a pale imitation of a pale imitation).

The person who tried to isolate Iran ended up isolating Israel — and now we can expect a new plague of threats elsewhere. Also, coordination with U.S. President Barack Obama will erode; Netanyahu quarreled and quarreled and had the arrogance to believe he’d be the glorious victor by engineering the failure of the Iran deal.

From 2009 to 2012, Obama established a clandestine channel for talks with key security people in Netanyahu’s government, headed by U.S. national security advisers James Jones and then Tom Donilon — opposite their Israeli counterparts Uzi Arad and Ya’akov Amidror. The Israeli team included chiefs or deputy chiefs in the Mossad, the Atomic Energy Commission and General Staff intelligence and planning.

The contacts were conducted via mutual visits and encrypted video conversations, whose texts were typed at top speed and placed on the desks of the Israelis in the know.

The seniority, secrecy and seriousness of the professionals enabled the receipt of information and the exchange of ideas. The Israelis had the impression the Americans were serious about the data they received, so they were able to polish their views and the version distributed to the media.

All this took place until Netanyahu linked up with Obama’s Republican rivals and the Iranians agreed to talk to the Americans, talks that ripened with the temporary agreement of late 2013 and the agreement this month. Netanyahu distorted the process in such a way that Israeli influence on American policy dwindled as the American-Iranian channel gained pace.

Netanyahu’s administrative failure is typical of his faulty handling of every problem, from the gas in the Mediterranean to the defense budget. He will always confidently espouse ironclad principles and under pressure improvise fuzzy solutions.

Had the Israeli government been headed by a leader, the Vienna agreement would have granted him a treasure: an entire decade to develop society and the economy without an Iranian nuclear bomb. Such a leader would take advantage of the decade the way David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol took advantage of the decade between the frustrating withdrawal from Sinai after the 1956 Sinai Campaign and the 1967 Six-Day War.

Ben-Gurion didn’t achieve the overt and covert goals of the Sinai Campaign against Egypt, an early version of revolutionary Iran — President Abdel Gamal Nasser remained alive, in power and even flourished. But Israel received precious years of quiet to develop back home.

Meanwhile, Menachem Begin wasted a decade after the peace deal with Egypt because of the settlements, the annexation of the Golan Heights and the first Lebanon war. And Yitzhak Rabin strove to take advantage of such a decade at the end of the Cold War and the 1991 defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Netanyahu, the first one to raise an outcry and the last one to realize the truth, is a millstone around Israel’s neck. Because of him Israel will continue to be bogged down instead of taking off.