Benjamin Netanyahu gained his political and diplomatic fame as a media wizard, especially in the American arena, during his term as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s. Borne on this wave, he returned to Israel and captured the leadership of the Likud party and then the premiership.
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It’s sad to discover that Netanyahu has remained stuck in that era, which ended a quarter-century ago. The president in Washington is no longer Ronald Reagan but Barack Obama, the world is no longer a bipolar American-Soviet one, and cold wars and violent conflicts have given way to compromises that entail concessions while still upholding the interests of both sides.
In recent weeks, Obama has achieved a breakthrough of sorts on two issues that threatened to explode: Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s effort to obtain nuclear weapons. Israel has an interest in the success of Obama’s diplomatic efforts on both fronts.
In Syria, Netanyahu can’t send American pilots into battle or urge a nation that still hasn’t recovered from its failed interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq to assume this military and economic burden, especially when it isn’t clear that such an operation has the power to end the bloodshed.
In Iran, even if Netanyahu is convinced that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be effective, he can’t know what the Iranian and global response would be to such a blow. It could be that the time Israel would gain while Iran rebuilds its nuclear program wouldn’t be worth the missile barrages it would absorb from Iran or the sanctions that would be imposed on it, especially if the operation weren’t coordinated in advance with Obama.
Ever since the open courtship between Washington and Tehran began – the correspondence between their presidents, the meeting of their foreign ministers, the presidential phone call – Netanyahu has sounded like someone unjustly deprived of his prey. Instead of welcoming the chance to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons while being spared a military entanglement, he is entrenching himself in his role as angry prophet warning against Iranian deception. The message is that the American president is naïve – one could almost say foolish – and that only the Israeli prime minister is sober and experienced. This isn’t just presumption, but arrogance.
In his address to the UN General Assembly Tuesday night, the prime minister would do better to stop making threats and sowing fear, as he has done in previous speeches, and refrain from pulling out evidence of the disaster about to befall us. Instead, he should use this platform to express support for the diplomatic efforts. Such a refreshing stance would better serve Israel’s interests and mobilize the world to ensure the security of its citizens.