This time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is serious. It’s true that in the past, we’ve heard his promises over and over again, and nothing ever came of them. But this time, he means it. Don’t label him a “coward.” He’s determined.
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But not about withdrawing to the 1967 lines, evacuating 140,000 settlers and dividing Jerusalem, without which there will be no peace. Netanyahu is serious this time - about attacking Iran.
It’s not for nothing that the run-up has once again begun with a prisoner release. In contrast to his threat to bomb Iran in 2010, which Netanyahu and his defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak, intended only to spur the Americans to work on isolating Tehran - it’s not true that then-IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, then-Mossad head Meir Dagan and then-Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin thwarted an attack – the urgency of autumn 2011 and summer 2012 was real. Netanyahu was just one step away from realizing his plan to exploit the U.S. elections to drag America into a war.
Then, too, his preparations were preceded by a prisoner release: the swap for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The idea was that doing something big and displaying moderation would make it easier to carry out a bloody offensive operation. Netanyahu understands that the road to bombing Iran is one of seeming diplomatic moderation and a little excitement. It’s a path that begins with freeing prisoners.
It’s strange how after living for 20 years with the man who orchestrated demonstrations against the Oslo withdrawals, during which people chanted “With blood and fire, we’ll expel Rabin,” the innocents and the pretend innocents still don’t understand what Netanyahu wants. It’s as if he had only just landed here. The moment you strip away the tactical necessities, the radical ideology returns. That’s what happened with the “protest” of summer 2011, after which we got the gang of Jacob Frenkel and National Economic Council chairman Eugene Kandel. The latter did a marvelous job of encapsulating Netanyahu’s spirit when he said that the greatest danger to our economy and democracy is democratic debate.
It’s also strange that so few people understand how similar Netanyahu is to U.S. President Barack Obama. Both are ideological leaders, very much so. They also share the rare political profile of having come from the edges of the ideological spectrum – in Netanyahu’s case, the far edges – and not only gaining but holding onto power. This situation requires a large degree of flexibility, “leading from behind,” concealment, manipulation and deceit, as well as rhetorical ability.
Both Netanyahu and Obama are opportunistic to some extent, but less so than most of their colleagues (and Netanyahu less so than Obama). Both of them exploit their image as opportunists to conceal their ideological radicalism, whose exposure would prevent their election, and to fashion an image as someone “it’s possible to do business with.”
It’s difficult to retain power for years when in contrast to your public, you’re a devout believer in the policy of settlements and in Ayn Rand-style capitalism, and also hold a grudge against the “traitorous elites” that Yitzhak Rabin symbolized. It’s equally difficult to remain in power when your spiritual guide is Pastor Jeremiah Wright, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is closer to you than any other leader, and when you sympathize with political Islam. In that situation, craftily “leading from behind” is the only option.
Their somewhat hesitant, even “weak,” image is also an effective tool for easing suspicions of ideological extremism. Aggressive cynics think everyone sizes things up like they do. But Obama and Netanyahu don’t. Not at all.
It’s true you haven’t yet heard the roar of the engines. But for Netanyahu, this is the quiet before the storm. The way Hatnuah’s three senior MKs, Tzipi Livni, Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna, have made it clear that “for the sake of peace,” they’re willing to throw the Arabs out of the Knesset by raising the electoral threshold (in stark contrast to Rabin, who believed that peace had to be made with the Arabs of Israel first of all), is exactly the way Netanyahu is behaving with regard to Iran. The hopes for “the process” are oil for the wheels of his fighter planes.
The Janus-faced Barak is no longer in the cabinet. His successor as defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, is ready to roll. And the heads of Netanyahu’s three coalition partners – Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and Livni – aren’t the slightest obstacle. Nor is it clear that the cloud cover in winter would put off an attack. The opposite may be true.
Remember: the 68th anniversary of Hiroshima. Remember: This time, Netanyahu is serious.