With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:
“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.
“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.
The release yesterday of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively vindicates everything Israel’s leaders have been saying in recent months. The report says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it could use to make the core of nuclear warheads at its underground bunker at Fordow. It has also effectively shut down the IAEA investigation of their work at Parchin, where the Islamist regime has been conducting work on nuclear weapons development.
Fordow is the “breakout” facility where it can convert any civilian nuclear activity into military applications safe from air attack. As even the New York Times admits today, far from the Obama administration’s strategy of using diplomacy and sanctions slowing down Iran’s progress, “if anything, the program is speeding up.” It goes on to point out:
But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.
Avigdor Lieberman is back in trouble today. His boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had to distance himself from a letter the foreign minister sent to the diplomatic Quartet urging the ouster of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu agreed with Lieberman “Abu Mazen” — Abbas’s nom de guerre — “creates difficulties in negotiations” but said he was dedicated to trying to work for peace with the Palestinians and had no interest in interfering in their internal politics. That was the appropriate response, but Abbas latest foray into “peacemaking” illustrates why many Israelis think Lieberman is right.
The PA president, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, spoke today on the anniversary of an attack on the mosques of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by a deranged Australian Christian in 1969. The man started a fire that was quickly put out. He was tried and found to be clinically insane and eventually deported. But the Palestinians, who have deliberately desecrated Jewish holy sites such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, are still milking the unfortunate incident for all its worth. Abbas falsely alleged that Israel is plotting to destroy the mosques and then demanded that all Jews be thrown out of the parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. That means over a quarter of a million Jewish Jerusalemites are, according to him, scheduled for eviction from their homes. This shows that Abbas’s vision of peace bears a strange resemblance to Hamas’s vision of unending war on Israel.
In Israel this week, people are lining up for gas masks, a new Homeland Defense has been set to work to deal with the task of readying the country for the possibility of attacks from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza, and pundits are working overtime trying to figure out whether the nation’s political leadership is serious about launching a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities sometime this fall. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is doing his best to convince Americans that the saber-rattling coming out Jerusalem is not a bluff aimed at forcing the West to toughen sanctions on Iran or start making their own credible threats about using force. In interviews with journalists and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Oren has made a powerful case about the existential threat that a nuclear Iran presents to Israel, but Washington may be listening more closely to those figures inside the Jewish state who are claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are begging to be talked out of an attack.
As the New York Times reported yesterday, Uzi Dayan, a former general who was asked to serve as Homeland Defense Minister, says his conversations with both Netanyahu and Barak led him to believe that the window of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration keeps talking about is still open. There are good reasons to believe the Israeli government would like nothing better than to have the war talk do what an earlier wave of speculation about a strike accomplished when Washington belatedly adopted a tougher sanctions policy. Jerusalem understands that even a successful strike on Iran will exact a terrible price in casualties and damage from counter-attacks from the Islamist regime and its terrorist allies. But those who assert that Netanyahu is just bluffing forget that Israeli anxiety is rooted as much in its lack of confidence in Washington as it is in knowledge of Iran’s genocidal ambitions.
Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.
The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.
You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them. But apparently the newspaper’s appetite for such tirades is undiminished as the publication of Avraham Burg’s in the Times’ Sunday edition today proved. There isn’t much that is particularly original about Burg’s piece that takes the point of view that Israel is on the brink of no longer being a democracy and is intolerant of minority views. That this is not remotely closely to being the truth is no barrier to its publication since it is exactly what American leftists want to be told. His views are an absurd conflation of egotism and blindness but his foolishness is not limited to his analysis of his own country, he also understands nothing about U.S.-Israel alliance and the strength of the across-the-board support the Jewish state has here.
In the conclusion of his article in which he envisions a post-Zionist government of Israel that will reject Jewish nationalism in favor of something more inclusive, he claims:
When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.
That is, I suppose, a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused earlier in the piece of being a “warmonger.” But as anyone who bothered to watch Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last year, he was widely cheered by both Republicans and Democrats with both parties competing with each other to show their enthusiasm for their Israeli ally. This is the sort of obvious mistake that any editor, even one with no love for Israel, should have caught. That it wasn’t tells us that the gatekeepers at the Times are as out of touch with reality as Burg.
The chattering classes are chortling today about the latest supposed mistake by Mitt Romney in which he is being condemned for telling the truth about the corrupt and violent political and economic culture of the Palestinians. Meanwhile in Tunisia, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta committed the real gaffe of the week when he told a credulous traveling press corps that the administration’s effort to get Iran to abandon its drive for nuclear weapons was working even if it didn’t look like it. As the New York Times reports:
“These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy of Iran.” He added that “while the results of that may not seem obvious at the moment,” the Iranians had expressed a willingness to negotiate, and that they “continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.”
Translation: We know Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is right when he says the sanctions aren’t doing a thing to make the Iranians change their minds and the Iranians know that we know. But as long as Tehran is willing to pretend to negotiate, we will pretend along with them because our main goal is to prevent Israel from trying to actually do something about this deadly threat. And if this makes it clear that all we are trying to do is to kick the can down the road until after the presidential election when we might have more “flexibility” to do a deal with the Iranians, then don’t believe your lying ears and eyes.
It is a cardinal rule of foreign policy that it is almost always a mistake to interfere in another country’s elections. When it comes to the United States’ interest in Israel, that is a maxim that has often been observed in the breach. U.S. government attempts to influence Israeli elections are ill-advised and don’t always work, as Bill Clinton learned in 1996 when he did everything but go door to door canvassing voters in Tel Aviv in a vain attempt to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister of Israel. But any Israeli efforts to signal their preferences in American presidential elections may have unfortunate consequences. That’s why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been at pains throughout the past year to make it clear he wants no part in the 2012 contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But however hard Netanyahu has tried to stay out of the fractious debate about which of the two is a better friend to the Jewish state, Romney’s visit to Israel yesterday left little doubt that while officially neutral, there isn’t much daylight between the GOP candidate and Jerusalem.
The upshot of Netanyahu’s meeting with Romney made it clear that his government is much closer to the Republican’s position on how to deal with Iran than Obama’s. Netanyahu’s saying, “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” about the need to stop Iran came on the same day that he reiterated his belief that the Obama administration’s reliance on sanctions and diplomacy was not working. Combined with Romney’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the day’s events might leave some with the impression that Israel has a rooting interest in the U.S. election. That isn’t what Netanyahu wants, as he knows there is a good chance he will be stuck dealing with Obama next year. But there is no way of escaping this dilemma. Because the administration’s positions on Iran, like the stances it took on settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem prior to the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive, are antithetical to Israel’s point of view, it is only natural for observers to conclude that Netanyahu would rather not find out what a second Obama administration will be like.
Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.
Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.
While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:
I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.
It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …
In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.
Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.
The collapse of the short-lived supermajority who presided over Israel’s ruling coalition since May has given critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best couple of days they’ve had in years. But anyone who expects this setback to change the political equation in which Netanyahu is not only an overwhelming favorite to win re-election but to stay in power for years to come doesn’t understand what has happened.
The end of the coalition is a disappointment for those friends of Israel who hoped the supermajority could help create some much-needed fundamental changes. But though the failure is not something that will burnish Netanyahu’s reputation, it will do far more damage to his junior partner Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz than it will to the prime minister or his Likud. At the end of the day, Netanyahu can be said to have his reputation dented a bit, but he remains on top of Israeli politics with no credible rival for the post of prime minister in sight.
At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol confirms new details of Mitt Romney’s upcoming visit to Israel:
During discussions about the trip over the last month, advisers to Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the appropriateness of a Romney visit to Israel on this date [Tisha B'Av]. But Netanyahu, the Weekly Standard has confirmed from top aides in Jerusalem and Boston, encouraged Romney to be in Jerusalem on this solemn day, one that recalls the tragedies of Jewish history and calls to mind current threats to the Jewish people.
Indeed, the Weekly Standard can report that Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu have invited the Romneys to join them for the traditional meal breaking the fast following sundown after Tisha B’Av. This gesture suggests that what may have started out as a routine candidate touchdown in Israel has become a more serious and significant moment for both Netanyahu and Romney.
The release of a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu is being widely dismissed by critics of his government as well as those of the Jewish state. Though its findings that Jews have the right to live in the territories and that Israel’s presence there does not fit the traditional definition of a military occupation are solidly based in international law, no one should expect the left to respect the report issued by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy. Nor should we be surprised if the international community ignores it. Opposition to the settlements is so deeply entrenched that there is no argument, no matter how grounded in logic or justice, that would persuade those committed to the myth settlements are the only obstacle to peace, that they are not illegal. As legal scholar David M. Phillips wrote in the September 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, international law supports this position.
But while we expect this effort to be trashed, those horrified by the fact that Israel is willing to assert that it has rights in the West Bank that are as worthy of respect as those of the Arabs are not just wrong about the legal arguments. Their assumption that a belief in the settlements’ legality makes a peace deal impossible is equally mistaken. Just because Israel has rights in the West Bank doesn’t mean it need necessarily exercise them on every inch of the territory. The assertion of Jewish rights merely means Israel has a leg to stand on when negotiating the permanent status of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from that rendering peace unlikely, it ought to give Palestinians an incentive to come to the table and work out a deal that will give them as much of the territory as they can get. The obstacle to peace is the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence throughout the country — including pre-1967 Israel — is illegitimate.
Yasser Arafat was famous for perfecting a style of diplomacy that could win him accolades from naive Westerners without having to make a single concession or sacrifice for the peace process. He would do this by refusing to do something basic that he should have already done until he could extort a reward for it. The West would pretend they got a concession from Arafat, and Arafat would laugh and laugh. It was a classic lose-lose dance that has marked the peace process from the beginning.
Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is a slight improvement, but in this regard he is turning back the clock. Haaretz is reporting that something which in the pre-Obama days of Middle East diplomacy was taken for granted–the willingness by Palestinians to meet for the purposes of political theater–has turned into something that requires ever more concessions. The latest is the Palestinian demand that Israel release 125 terrorists just for the pleasure of Abbas considering a meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu has supposedly accepted the offer, and issued a proposal for how to structure the deal.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.
The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.
The New York Times reports that Mitt Romney will visit Israel to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this summer, marking his fourth trip to the country:
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will visit Israel this summer to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders, a senior aide to the prime minister confirmed on Monday evening.
Mr. Romney, who has pledged to “do the opposite” of the Obama administration on matters pertaining to Israel, is also expected to meet with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority; President Shimon Peres of Israel; the American ambassador, Daniel B. Shapiro; and leaders of the opposition Labor Party in Jerusalem. He plans to have at least one public event in a trip that will likely last less than two days.
“He’s a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him,” said Ron Dermer, Mr. Netanyahu’s senior adviser, who worked with Republicans in the United States before immigrating here. “We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”
Jewish Democrats have been imploring President Obama to visit Israel to no avail ever since he was elected. But while the president has conspicuously avoided Israel during his foreign trips even when visiting the Middle East, the authoritarian running a far less friendly country has no scruples about coming to the Jewish state. The Times of Israel reports today that Vladimir Putin, who recently returned to the presidency of the Russian Federation after slumming for a few years in the prime minister’s office, will be heading to Israel later this month.
Putin will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and dedicate a monument in Netanya to soldiers of the Red Army who were killed during World War II. He will also visit the Palestinian territories and Jordan. The visit will be Putin’s second to Israel as the leader of Russia (he previously visited in 2005) and puts President Obama’s refusal to go to Israel in an interesting light. Even though the president has embarked on a year-long Jewish charm offensive motivated by his desire to hold onto the Jewish vote this November, his decision not to try and win Israeli hearts and minds by coming to their country is curious, especially because it would be to his political advantage to do so.
Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:
The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.
It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”
I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.
It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.
That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.