Netanyahu v Obama: What Next?
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israelâ€™s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 5, 2012.
The headline over an article in Ha-aretz by Bradley Burston on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahuâ€™s poker game with President Obama was If Obama wins in November, is Netanyahu in trouble? Thatâ€™s a question Iâ€™ve had in my own mind for quite some time and it begs another. What, really, worries Netanyahu most â€“ the prospect (not real) of Iran posing an existential threat to Israel or the prospect (real) of a second-term Obama?
There is, Burston wrote, something new in the air, something Netanyahu does not like. What is it? â€œAmerican conservatives have begun to think out loud that Barack Obama will win in November.â€
In my opinion thereâ€™s a better than evens chance that in the course of a second Obama term, America would put its own best interests first, which would mean an end to unconditional American support for the Zionist state of Israel right or wrong. (As is often the case, the Gentile me and Gideon Levy are on the same page. The headline over one of his recent articles in Ha-aretz was Itâ€™s only a matter of time before U.S. tires of Israel).
There are three main reasons why I have that opinion.
The first is my belief that Obama hates being a prisoner of the Zionist lobby and its stooges in Congress. (I think that Max Hastings, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph and a well respected military historian, was spot on when he wrote the following in a recent article for the Daily Mail. â€œPrivately, Obama yearns to come down hard n Netanyahu, whom he dislikes intensely. But the U.S. President does not dare to do this when his own re-election may hinge on the three per cent of American voters who are Jewish.â€)
The second, and much more to the real point, is that behind closed doors there are now many in the top levels of Americaâ€™s military, intelligence and foreign policy establishments who are aware that an Israel which has no interest in peace with the Palestinians, and is led by men who want war with Iran, is an Israel that is much more of a liability than an asset for the U.S. There is also awareness in the top levels of Americaâ€™s military, intelligence and foreign policy establishments that Netanyahu decided to play the Iran threat card in order to divert attention away from Israelâ€™s on-going consolidation of its occupation of the West Bank and, in short, to have Palestine taken off the American foreign policy agenda.
The third is the insight given to me by former President Carter when my wife and I met with him and Rosalyn after they had said goodbye to the White House. â€œAny American president has only two windows of opportunity to break or try to break the Zionist lobbyâ€™s stranglehold on Congress on matters to do with Israel Palestine.â€
The first window is during the first nine months of a presidentâ€™s first term because after that the soliciting of funds for the mid-term elections begins. Presidents donâ€™t have to worry on their own account about funds for mid-term elections, but with their approach no president can do or say anything that would offend the Zionist lobby and cost his party seats in Congress. The second window of opportunity is the last year of his second term if he has one. In that year, because he canâ€™t run for a third term, no president has a personal need for election campaign funds or organised votes. (I imagine that incoming President Obama, briefed by Carter or not, was fully aware of these limited windows of opportunity and that was why he tried in his first nine months to get a freeze on Israelâ€™s illegal settlement activity).
So my answer to Burstonâ€™s headline question is yes, Netanyahu could very well be in trouble if Obama wins a second term.
A good indication of Netanyahuâ€™s fear of a second term Obama is, I think, the mountain of money his seriously wealthy supporters in America are investing in the effort to get a Republican into the White House who will allow Netanyahu and the Zionist lobby to pull his strings.
Question: Given that he does not want Obama to have a second term, what now are Netanyahuâ€™s options?
I can see three possibles.
One is to watch and wait and hope that there will be a downturn in the American economy between now and November that will assist a Republican presidential candidate to defeat Obama.
Another is to launch a unilateral attack on Iranâ€™s nuclear sites (never mind that Iranâ€™s leaders have not taken a decision to go nuclear for weapons and possibly never will unless Iran is attacked).
Question: How might initiating a war with Iran assist Netanyahu to put Obama in real trouble?
One short answer is that the probable regional and global fall-out of an Israeli attack on Iran, including soaring oil prices, could bring what is being presented as a slow but sure recovery of the American economy to a swift halt. And that, most likely, would be enough to guarantee Obamaâ€™s defeat in November. (In an analysis for The National Interest, an American bi-monthly foreign policy journal, Paul Pillar, a former, very senior CIA analyst and today a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies, noted that the welfare of American consumers and workers is â€œnot highâ€ on the list of decision-making criteria for Netanyahu and his government).
There is, however, one thing that could cause Netanyahu not to go with this option. Quite apart from the fact that Israelâ€™s past and present intelligence and military chiefs are divided on the wisdom of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, the polls are showing that a majority of Israeli Jews are opposed to Israel going it alone with an attack on Iran. Theyâ€™re in favour of Iran being attacked but only if America becomes engaged and takes the lead.
And that brings us to a possible third option for Netanyahu. It is to commission a Mossad false flag operation â€“ an attack on a vital American interest or interests for which Iran could be and would be framed.
The Zionist lobby, Obamaâ€™s Republican rivals and much if not all of the American mainstream media would promote this falsehood as fact, and that could leave Obama with no choice but to commit American military power. If he did not, his Republican challenger or challengers, assisted by the Zionist lobby and most if not all of the American mainstream media would accuse him of failing to protect Americaâ€™s security interests and betraying Israel. And that, given the ignorance of American public opinion, would almost certainly be enough to guarantee Obamaâ€™s defeat.
For his own part Obama absolutely does not want war another war. Heâ€™s frightened, as he should be, of the possible/probable consequences.
Quite apart from the possible/probable economic consequences (including soaring gasoline prices in America), Obama understands completely that U.S. engagement in a new and broader regional war will ignite more anti-Americanism and play into the hands of Arab and other Muslim radicals and extremists, perhaps to the point of assisting them to become the dominant political power in the region. And that, were it to happen, would be potentially catastrophic for Americaâ€™s best interests in the Arab and wider Muslim world. (Netanyahu would, of course, be quietly pleased because his Israel needs enemies).
So far as I am aware there is no well informed commentator who is prepared to make an explicit prediction about what Netanyahu will do â€“ whether he will or will not order a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran in the closing stages of the American election. If I had to bet my life on it, Iâ€™d say he wonâ€™t; but thereâ€™s a real danger that his anti-Iran rhetoric, described in a recent Haâ€™aretz editorial as â€œa combination of wretchedness and megalomaniaâ€, may create an unstoppable momentum for war.
As my readers know, I regard Haâ€™aretz as the most honest newspaper in the world on the subject of what is really happening in Israel. Its view of Netanyahu was on display in a recent editorial headlined Israel must not lend itself to Netanyahuâ€™s vulgar rhetoric on Iran. I think the whole editorial ought to be required reading not only for those who want to replace Obama as president but for all American voters. Here is the text of it (with my emphasis added).
Anyone who cares about Israelâ€™s future could not help but feel a chill upon hearing Benjamin Netanyahuâ€™s recent speech at the AIPAC conference â€“ if not because of the gravity of the existential threat it described, then because of its sheer vulgarity and bad taste. The prime minister, as if he were no more than a surfer leaving feedback on a website, did not hesitate to crassly compare Israel today to the situation of European Jewry during the Holocaust. And to spice up his speech with one of those visual gimmicks he so loves, he even pulled out a photostat of correspondence in order to imply a comparison between U.S. President Barack Obamaâ€™s cautious approach toward attacking Iran and President Franklin D. Rooseveltâ€™s refusal to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz.
Netanyahu sometimes seems like he is holding a debating competition with himself. Every speech is the â€œspeech of his lifeâ€ and must overshadow its predecessor, while afterward, as if they were rehashing a sporting event, he and his aides gleefully count the number of standing ovations, especially from his American listeners. And in order to wring an ovation from the end of every sentence, it seems as if all means are legitimate: kitsch (trash) and death, threats and vows, warnings and rebukes of the entire world.
This time, too, itâ€™s not quite clear what he wanted to obtain via this inane rhetoric â€“ a combination of wretchedness and megalomania â€“ aside from applause. Did he want pity? To prick the conscience of the world? To terrify himself, or perhaps to inflame the Churchillian fantasy in which he lives? But one thing is clear: Aside from the fact that he deepened our feelings of victimhood, insulted the American president and narrowed the options for diplomacy, Netanyahu did not improve Israelâ€™s situation one jot by this speech, just as he hasnâ€™t by any of his others.
Netanyahu isnâ€™t the first Israeli prime minister, especially from the right, to harp on the trauma of the Holocaust. But in contrast to Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, who at the moment of truth also displayed diplomatic and leadership abilities, Netanyahu was and remains essentially a PR man: someone for whom words and rhetoric replace reality. The spine-chilling fear is that one day, all of us â€“ himself included, despite his caution and hesitation â€“ will discover too late that we have become hostages to his Churchillian speech, but without a Churchillian victory.
Iâ€™ll conclude with my own favourite story about Netanyahu.
Way back in 1984 I had an appointment for lunch in New York with the Englishman I most admire, Brian (later knighted) Urquhart. He was an Undersecretary General of the UN with the responsibility for conflict management. He served four Secretary Generals and was, in fact, the worldâ€™s number one trouble-shooter. Because of his matchless grasp of international affairs and his integrity, he was respected by leaders on both sides of all the conflicts he managed. And he never pulled his punches in behind-closed doors exchanges with leaders. On one private occasion Prime Minister Begin said he should not talk with Arafat. Urquhart looked Begin in the eye and said: â€œMr. Prime Minister, I am the servant of the international community, donâ€™t you dare to tell me who I can and cannot talk to!â€
When Brian arrived for lunch, he said as he was sitting down, â€œIâ€™ve just met the most dangerous man in the world.â€
I asked who it was.
Brian replied: â€œHeâ€™s just presented his credentials as Israelâ€™s ambassador to the UN, Benjamin Netanyahu.â€