Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 9/27/2012: Netanyahu's Risk In Going Public Against Iran

From DG:

The urgency gap

Jeffrey Goldberg responds to a charge that he's a "court Jew:" ( h/t Lenny Boy USA )
I also received some thoughtful responses, and read some in the media, including one, in Haaretz, from Chemi Shalev who wrote the following: "In the discussion that followed Netanyahu's appearance on Meet the Press, it was instructive to hear Atlantic magazine and Bloomberg blogger Jeffery (sic) Goldberg - whom right wingers consider to be a leftie, left-wingers view as a rightie and most Jews embrace as a voice in the middle - say that 'I have never seen a prime minister who has mismanaged Israeli-US relations like Netanyahu.' And while Goldberg's stature may be light years away from that of the legendary Walter Cronkite, my immediate association was to the oft-told but never-proven account of Lyndon Johnson's reaction to Cronkite's assertion in early 1968 that the Vietnam War was unwinnable: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
Light years away is right, but it is true, and worth underscoring, that Netanyahu is making a hash of most everything right now. He's done a fine job of concentrating the world's attention on the Iranian nuclear program, but he's overreached with the American president, and he's allowed the settlement movement, the vanguard of binationalism and Israel's eventual dissolution, to steer state policy. And one more thing. This is only anecdotal, but he seems to be alienating American Jews at a rapid clip. One such Jew, a friend of mine in the media (we're everywhere in the media, you know), told me that he was becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu. This is not some sort of deracinated Jewish media person I'm talking about, either. This is the real deal. And yet he can't fathom Netanyahu's behavior, and Israel is not the source of pride for him it once was. Now Israelis will say: Who cares if we're a source of pride for someone in the Diaspora? Well, they will care when their support in America dissipates, as it could do.
(For the record, Goldberg is not a centrist; he's a leftist. The only reason that leftists consider him a "rightie" is because he isn't reflexively anti-Israel, defends Israel's right to exist and often defends Israel's right to self-defense.)

In a similar vein, Thomas Friedman in his recent Hard Lines, Red Lines and Green Lines wrote:
Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel has been loudly demanding that America publicly draw a “red line” in respect to Iran’s nuclear program that would delineate exactly when the U.S. would launch a strike against Tehran. Bibi is Winston Churchill when it comes to demanding that the U.S. draw red lines, but he is a local party boss when America asks him to draw a “green line” delineating where Jewish settlements in the West Bank will stop and a Palestinian state might start. Oh, no! Can’t do that, Bibi tells American officials. “I would lose my coalition.” So America is supposed to risk a war with Iran, but Bibi won’t risk anything to advance a deal with the Palestinians that might create a little more global legitimacy and sympathy for Israel, and America, in the event of a war with Iran. Thanks a lot.
In different ways both Goldberg and Friedman take the approach that Netanyahu is playing politics - and losing.

I disagree with the premise. To be sure Netanyahu taking a big risk by going public with his fears. But consider that Netanyahu has learned something since his first term as Prime Minister.  He did what he could to play along with Obama at least until May, 2011. It didn't win him any warmth or sympathy from the President. But as Netanyahu's position in Israel strengthened there wasn't much Obama could do about him either.

Also consider that Netanyahu returned to power after ten years in the political wilderness. It isn't impossible to do that, but it requires great political skills. According to Goldberg and Friedman, Netanyahu simply threw away hard earned political capital to strike a blow at the Obama administration. It doesn't make sense.

Walter Russell Mead makes a lot more sense:
Prime Minister Netanyahu is running huge risks. If President Obama is re-elected (and, although there are more than six weeks until the election, most observers now think he will be), he can expect icy relations with Washington for some time to come. His recent activities will be read in the White House as a deliberate attempt to intervene in American politics—not simply to lobby for more aid for Israel, but to block the re-election of an incumbent. It is something that many Democrats will never forgive and, certainly, something that President Obama will not forget. If the President is re-elected, the power of future Israeli prime ministers in the U.S., based in large part on their perceived ability to shift U.S. domestic opinion, will have permanently and significantly declined. 
Nothing less than a truly serious threat to Israel’s existence could justify such a high risk move; we must assume that this underlines the sincerity of Netanyahu’s belief that the Iranian nuclear program is about to reach a point of no return.
Keep in mind that Netanyahu's request for American red lines came shortly after Secretary Clinton's declaration that "The US is 'not setting deadlines' for Iran and still considers negotiations as 'by far the best approach' to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons ..." His point that sanctions can hurt Iran, but absent a "red line" nothing will stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. If anything, Netanyahu's request seemed to be a response to a rejection of understandings that he had with the administration; not an opportunity to score political points. It was coming more from frustration than calculation.

Shortly after Netanyahu's request for "red lines," President Obama told "60 Minutes" that Israeli concerns about Iran's nuclear program were "noise." Does Goldberg think that his dismissal of Netanyahu's urgency didn't, in some way, influence the President's response. (Yes, the President tried to justify his "noise" comment, after the fact. But that's because he realized that standing by it was not good for him politically. His original response, reflected his true feelings.)

There clearly is an urgency gap between Obama and Netanyahu regarding Iran's nuclear capacity. If there weren't, Obama's supporters wouldn't be criticizing Netanyahu, Obama wouldn't have dismissed Israeli concerns as "noise," and Obama would have made meeting Netanyahu a bigger priority than meeting David Letterman. This is a point made in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, Israel must be 'eliminated':
The world's civilized nations typically denounce such statements, as the U.S. State Department denounced Mr. Ahamadinejad's on Monday. But denouncing them is not the same as taking them seriously. Sometimes the greatest challenge for a civilized society is comprehending that not everyone behaves in civilized or rational fashion, that barbarians can still appear at the gate.
The tragic lesson of history is that sometimes barbarians mean what they say. Sometimes regimes do want to eliminate entire nations or races, and they will do so if they have the means and opportunity and face a timorous or disbelieving world. 
No one knows that more acutely than Israeli leaders, whose state was founded in the wake of such a genocide. The question faced by Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and other Israelis is whether they can afford to allow another regime pledged to Jewish "annihilation" to acquire the means to accomplish it. The answer, in our view, is as obvious as Mr. Ahmadinejad's stated intentions.

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