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Emperor Netanyahu

Netanyahu prides himself on being an omnipotent ruler; he's already behaving like an emperor

Dan Margalit
Dan Margalit
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, April 15, 2018.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, April 15, 2018. Credit: Gali Tibbon/AP
Dan Margalit
Dan Margalit

The missile system directed at Israel, which Iran is building in Syria, warrants the taking of military action in order to destroy it. According to foreign and occasionally Israeli sources the Israel Defense Forces has been hitting this system from the air. In addition, the files brought by the Mossad from Teheran in a resounding intelligence operation prove that Iran lied about its nuclear program. According to Netanyahu there is serious and reasonable doubt that it has not ceased in its deceptions. His dramatic speech was intended to arouse the West into taking action that would neutralize the real dangers contained in the deal made between Barack Obama and the ayatollahs.

The two issues are different but they share common features. In the struggle against the Iranian presence in Syria, Netanyahu and Lieberman have adopted the language of ultimatums. This reduces the chances of success. No state, particularly not an evil one like Iran, will yield to an adversary’s demands while being publicly humiliated.

In its more sophisticated years Israel refrained from excessive publicity. One may remember Dayan’s wise reaction to the appearance of Soviet pilots on the Egyptian front during the War of Attrition – he advocated treading cautiously. Shooting down a few of their planes, explained Dayan, would not cause Russia to retreat. A decade earlier, in 1960, Gamal Abdul Nasser violated commitments he made following the 1956 Suez campaign, deploying army units in Sinai. When military intelligence learned of this – with chilling tardiness – David Ben Gurion imposed total silence on revealing this information. If he threatened anyone he did so in a whisper, in closed rooms. Ben Gurion realized that the Egyptian president would not reverse course if threatened publicly. And so it transpired. In contrast, Netanyahu and Lieberman, who have now been authorized by the Knesset to initiate a war at their discretion, reflecting the cabinet’s prevailing conception of an imperial rule, are making it difficult for Israel with their populist and inflammatory declarations.

Given no other choice, unilateral action by the IDF is the least bad option, but has Israel done all it can to form an international coalition in order to oppose the nuclear accord and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria? The goal of obtaining the support of Arab states in removing Iran from Syria and blocking its expansion is worthy of additional Israeli efforts. These states find it very convenient that Israel alone is shouldering the burden of confronting Iranian infrastructure close to the Golan Heights, without having to make any real contributions. They will not volunteer to do so in any case.

Such a move, which would take considerable time – and the painful part has yet to commence lacking an Iranian response – requires international cooperation. Ben Gurion refused to approve the Sinai campaign before he received French and British commitment to join the fray. Currently, Israel has no hint of such support from the Sunni Arab world, which detests Iran.

It is possible that Arab states would stand alongside Israel and cooperate with it if Israel agreed to discuss the Saudi plan for resolving its conflict with the Palestinians. Without such a move there is no possibility of obtaining overt support by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for Israel, even not against the Iran they loathe.

Acting unilaterally is a mistake with very long-term consequences. Israel remains alone in confronting Iran. The campaign against it will have its ups and downs. The public now sees Netanyahu as King David bringing the Ark back from its Philistine captivity. But what if a painful and disheartening Iranian response follows? The writers of the Mishna already commented that this nation is wont to extremes, either feeling itself ground to dust or up in the heavens – something like a Second Temple-era diagnosis of manic depression.

Netanyahu prides himself on being an omnipotent ruler. As a history buff he surely knows that even on days when Roman emperors dazzled and the crowds roared when they were crowned, there was always a counsellor whispering in his ears words of restraint, urging him to remember his mortality. Netanyahu is already behaving like an emperor.

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