Tag Archives: Benjamin Netanyahu

An impending ground war in Gaza?

Andrew Sullivan laments the direction the Israel/Palestine conflict has gone in recent years:

As I wrote yesterday, it is impossible and wrong to blame Israel for self-defense against Hamas rockets with greater range and power, if not much greater accuracy, than the past. There is no defense of Hamas’s use of terrorism. Equally, the kind of ground assault that now looks inevitable is yet another iteration of the same dead end. Except, this time, for Israel, the region is shifting against it. The visit to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister yesterday – he and Hamas’s leader together beheld the body of a Gazan boy killed by Israeli firepower yesterday – represents a tectonic shift. And the deeper regional and international isolation of Israel is pregnant with foreboding. If we see another civilian bloodbath in Gaza, four years after the last one, the failures of the Israeli government to seize the opportunity Obama offered them four years ago – indeed to treat the United States president with contempt combined with an open attempt to elect his opponent – will haunt the Jewish state. Greater Israel is as unsustainable as it appears to be inevitable. There was, and maybe still is, a ramp off this conflagration. But Netanyahu and Hamas feed off it domestically – a gruesome and ominous fact.

Hurricane Syria continues to expand

And is threatening not just Lebanon, but Turkey and now Israel as well:

Syria pulled both Turkey and Israel closer to military entanglements in its civil war on Monday, bombing a rebel-held Syrian village a few yards from the Turkish border in a deadly aerial assault and provoking Israeli tank commanders in the disputed Golan Heights into blasting mobile Syrian artillery units across their own armistice line.

he escalations, which threatened once again to draw in two of Syria’s most powerful neighbors, came hours after the fractious Syrian opposition announced a broad new unity pact that elicited praise from the big foreign powers backing their effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

“It is a big day for the Syrian opposition,” wrote Joshua Landis, an expert on Syrian political history and the author of the widely followed Syria Comment blog. Mr. Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote that the “Assad regime must be worried, as it has survived for 42 years thanks to Syria’s fragmentation.”

There has been speculation that Mr. Assad, feeling increasingly threatened, may deliberately seek to widen the conflict that has consumed much of his own country for the past 20 months and left roughly 40,000 people dead. Although there is no indication that Mr. Assad has decided to try to lure Israel into the fight, any Israeli involvement could rally his failing support and frustrate the efforts of his Arab adversaries.

The attack on the Turkish border, by what Syrian witnesses identified as a Syrian MIG-25 warplane, demolished at least 15 buildings and killed at least 20 people in the town of Ras al-Ain, the scene of heavy fighting for days and an impromptu crossing point for thousands of Syrian refugees clambering for safety into Turkey.

At this point, I’d be most worried about Israel and Lebanon. Turkey may be upset but is unlikely to do something disproportionately aggressive without some semblance of international acquiescence (or, at least, ambivalence). Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel, on the other hand, is in a hostile and unpredictable mood (as it has been since he took office in 2009), especially now that the extremely hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu-Likud connection has been solidified into an actual coalition. And Lebanon continues to fulfill its role as a propane gas tank just waiting to burst into flames.

The ingredients for massive chaos to boil over are all there. Now all it might take is a little something extra to turn up the heat.

Not all broken clocks are right even twice a day

Benjamin Netanyahu:

During an address to the Britain’s House of Commons, Netanyahu said that Russia is still passing ballistic missile technology to Iran and that the Iranians are only a year away from acquiring long-range nuclear missile capability.

“If the supply of Russian technology is not stopped, then within a year Iran would become self-sufficient and would be able to create those missiles on its own,” Netanyahu said.

Oh, and…this was in November 1997. Then, the next year (Jay Bushinsky and Liat Collins, “PM: It may be too late to stop Iran, Iraq nuclear plans,” Jerusalem Post, June 9, 1998; no link):

Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday repeated that Israel is doing everything to thwart Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nonconventional ballistic and nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the international community had largely ingnored the issue until Israel had begun raising it. He said although there had been a change, it was not sufficient and it is possible that Israel will not be able to prevent Iran and Iraq from acquiring nuclear capability. He said the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan had created a lack of balance in the international system.

You see, if there’s one thing the global community can count on, it’s that Iran will always be on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu’s bullying, and the pushback

Yesterday’s New York Times editorialized against Benjamin Netanyahu’s serial arrogance and undermining of American policy:

Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is trying to browbeat President Obama into a pre-emptive strike. OnTuesday, he demanded that the United States set a red line for military action and said those who refuse “don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.” Later, Mr. Obama telephoned him and rejected the appeal. On Friday, Mr. Netanyahu suggested in an interview that Israel cannot entirely rely on the United States to act against Iran’s program.

Leaders need flexibility and ambiguity, not just hard and fast red lines. And it is dangerous for Mr. Netanyahu to try to push the president into a corner publicly and raise questions about Washington. Is that really the message he wants to send to Tehran?

Yet here was the sentence that stood out to me the most:

But 70 percent of Americans oppose a unilateral strike on Iran, according to a new poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and 59 percent said if Israel bombs Iran and ignites a war, the United States should not come to its ally’s defense.

That second half is truly remarkable. I took a look at the study, which had several interesting nuggets:

In addition, there is no clear majority support for using U.S. troops to defend Israel if it were attacked by its neighbors: as in 2010, Americans are essentially split down the middle…

In the hypothetical situation in which Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, only 38 percent say the United States should bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel. A majority (59%) says it should not.

Color me surprised that, since 2010, Americans were only split on whether to militarily support Israel even if it were attacked first. Perhaps we’re less of a warmongering population than our Republican elected officials would have us believe. Which, well, we kinda already knew anyway.

Equally interesting is that, finally (it certainly took long enough), the administration is pushing back. Not only has Obama decided not to meet with Netanyahu this month when he visits the U.S. for the UN General Assembly meetings, but — in a very rare turn of events — a U.S. senator (Barbara Boxer, D-CA) has authored an open letter harshly condemning Netanyahu’s meddling in American foreign policy:

In light of this, I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System?

As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time – Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I urge you to step back and clarify your remarks so that the world sees that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel. As you personally stated during an appearance with President Obama in March, “We are you, and you are us. We’re together. So if there’s one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it’s that Israel and America stand together.”

Thank you for that statement. I am hoping to hear that statement again.

What do you do when your prime minister is an extremist?

From David Remnick at the New Yorker:

It is hard to overestimate the risks that Benjamin Netanyahu poses to the future of his own country. As Prime Minister, he has done more than any other political figure to embolden and elevate the reactionary forces in Israel, to eliminate the dwindling possibility of a just settlement with the Palestinians, and to isolate his country on the world diplomatic stage. Now Netanyahu seems determined, more than ever, to alienate the President of the United States and, as an ally of Mitt Romney’s campaign, to make himself a factor in the 2012 election—one no less pivotal than the most super Super PAC. “Who are you trying to replace?” the opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, asked of Netanyahu in the Knesset on Wednesday. “The Administration in Washington or that in Tehran?”

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the heads-up.)

OK, I’ll say it: Jeffrey Goldberg is an assclown

This is really one too many times. Jeffrey Goldberg has perfected — nay, has transformed into an art form — a process in which he starts unfounded rumors or promotes really weak and unsubstantiated claims into prominence while simultaneously pretending to disavow them. Incidentally, he does the same thing with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process too: he’s always against the settlements generally, but by God, if you actually come up with an idea of how to combat this ongoing injustice, he’s having none of it. (See “Beinart, Peter” for more information.) And the same thing with anti-Semitism too: he has no problem implying in very unsubtly disguised statements how anti-Semitic he finds the average critic of Israel, but once confronted with abusing and misusing the term, he quickly denies it.

So today, after already playing this game before, Goldberg once again spins the “plausible deniability” wheel once more, for old times’ sake:

The prominent Israeli commentator Amnon Abramovich argues that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to go for early electons — now scheduled for September 4 — means that Netanyahu (and his defense minister, Ehud Barak), will still have plenty of time to launch a preemptive strike before the American presidential election in early November…

Seems doubtful to me, for what it’s worth. Too many moving parts, too many risks involved — Netanyahu doesn’t like risk (especially when compared to his militarily adventurous predecessors) and the timeline is very short. It’s hard to believe he would order a (cataclysmic, IMO) strike on Iran while trying to build a governing coalition for his next term.  I also tend to think he would not order a strike during Obama’s second term, should Obama win reelection. Abramovich is right that Obama would have a hard time being critical of Israel before the upcoming American election. But he would be freer to punish Israel after. What I wouldn’t rule out is a Netanyahu-ordered strike before he goes to elections. Not immediately — he needs to see what America can accomplish in the upcoming negotiations with Iran (my prediction: nothing much), but sometime after that, especially if intelligence suggests that Iran is moving centrifuges into the hardened facility at Fordow at a more rapid clip. But an October surprise? Not probable.

“Hey, America, just for the record, I’m saying it’s not probable, OK? As in, this rumor that I just created out of thin air has no basis. I repeat, no basis. I know it seems extremely credible, as it’s based on absolutely nothing (much like my advocacy of the Iraq war, interestingly enough) and was just concocted right now out of sheer boredom and my recurring warmongering itch, but don’t worry…Israel will probably not attack Iran. Israel will likely not do the thing that I just suggested it may do, even though there’s no reason to think they would in the first place. I know, I know, I just put the thought in your minds now, but seriously…just pretend I never said anything. Actually, on second thought, don’t. Because, you know, Israel might attack Iran.”

Memo to Goldberg — well, now you really look like an idiot:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) reached a surprise agreement early Tuesday morning to form a national unity government.

The move came as the Knesset was preparing to disperse for early elections, which were expected to be scheduled for September 4.

But fear not, Goldberg has already rallied. Literally in the time it has taken me to write this part of my post, he has responded to the Haaretz article with a blog post titled, “Forget That No-October-Surprise-Iran Attack Business I Was Talking About Before:”

Bibi Netanyahu seems to have solidified his coalition through 2013 by bringing in the Kadima Party, formerly headed by his arch-foe Tzipi Livni, now headed by his not-so-arch foe Shaul Mofaz. If the reports out of Israel are true, this means no election September 4, and it means that Netanyahu can proceed apace with whatever he’s thinking about doing re: Iran’s nuclear sites. This is not to say that he brought Kadima into his coalition to clear the way for an attack; Mofaz — Iranian-born, by the way — is on record as opposing an Iran strike, though people I speak to say he would back such a strike in a crunch (namely, if he saw proof Iran was rapidly approaching the “zone of immunity,” in which it could enrich uranium in impregnable bunkers).

You see? He’s still not saying he expects an October surprise or anything. He’s just implying that that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Because it would be really, really cool if it did.

And…that makes everyone

Today, the New York Times reports that Israel’s former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, has now added his voice to the chorus of people (largely in the intelligence community) who believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s drumbeat of war with Iran is reckless and stupid:

“I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” said Yuval Diskin, who stepped down last May after six years running the Shin Bet, Israel’s version of the F.B.I.

“I have observed them from up close,” Mr. Diskin said. “I fear very much that these are not the people I’d want at the wheel.” Echoing Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, Mr. Diskin also said that the government was “misleading the public” about the likely effectiveness of an aerial strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Funny thing about the intelligence community: they’re not elected, so they don’t make their living scaring the bejeezus out of people to keep their jobs. Can we all please take stock of the situation, rationally, and come to the obvious conclusion that Bibi is a demagogic nut job whose overheated rhetoric is destabilizing to the entire region? There is an almost complete transatlantic consensus that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is not a very good idea. But why listen to nuclear experts and intelligence chiefs when you can so easily make completely inaccurate analogies comparing today’s situation to the Holocaust?

The Obama administration warns Israel via a media proxy?

More interesting developments in the whole will-they-or-won’t-they saga, a romantic comedy starring Israel, bunker-busters, and Iranian nuclear sites. Or as the Greeks might argue, more of a tragedy, really. I suppose this debate is moot until we find out what happens in the end.

And speaking of endgames, I am (slightly, incrementally) heartened by the noises emanating from the American camp. Yesterday, an article appeared on the New York Times web site titled, “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” The article begins thusly:

Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

This is strikingly different rhetoric than we’ve been hearing in most quarters recently regarding Iran. My take is that the Obama White House is preemptively trying to distance itself from any decision Israel may take on its own. A similar story took place several days earlier, when American General Martin Dempsey told Fareed Zakaria in an interview that an Israeli strike against Iran would not be “prudent.” This interview aired on the very same day that the Telegraph reported similar comments from British foreign secretary William Hague: an Israeli attack “would not be wise,” he said.

The subtext in the similarity of both the language and the timing of the two interviews was unmistakable: the U.S. and Great Britain are clearly acting in concert to warn the Israeli government, led by the fairly maniacal Benjamin Netanyahu, that they should not expect much support from either the U.S. or the U.K. in planning to attack Iran.

I believe, however, that this latest salvo — fired via the New York Times — is not only a stronger statement than the earlier ones, but may actually be indicative of a point of no return for the United States’ position on Iran. If Israel were to attack Iran, it would be very difficult for the Obama administration to rationally justify supporting or becoming involved in Israel’s military venture, since its own American security and intelligence agencies are making it very clear that they don’t believe the Iranian threat to be as serious as it is often described. I would imagine that Netanyahu is cognizant of this meaning, and I’m betting he’s seething right now. Could we actually be witnessing a 1956 Suez Canal moment, and during an American presidential election year no less?