Bibi’s stand on ‘red line’ is misstep

Larry Levin

BY LARRY LEVIN

BY LARRY LEVIN

 

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the United States for not defining the “red line” that Iran may not cross before expecting a forceful response. (see related news story, p. 5)

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There are times that Bibi uses his bellicosity to good effect.  This was most definitely not one of them.

No question that Netanyahu is feeling the heat from the U.S., the international community, and his own citizenry, who are of mixed mind when it comes to attacking. But directing his bluster at Washington, which perhaps is an effort to deflect political attention from himself, is not going to accomplish anything of lasting use:

• It won’t change the American position on this issue, nor should it. To go public with lines in the sand, to give warnings to a hostile Iran about when and whether the U.S. might strike, is about as flawed an approach, both tactically and strategically, as one could imagine.

• It won’t engender maximum cooperation from the U.S. and the administration. American diplomats have been shuttling back and forth from Washington to Israel for months, crafting delicate and deliberate approaches to military cooperation, collaboration and response. To slam the U.S. side now, while maybe buying Bibi five minutes of breathing room from all the desultory focus, isn’t going to pay off in the long run.

• If Netanyahu is hoping to alter the course of the American elections (he has since claimed forcefully that he isn’t) the likelihood is de minimis.  There’s less than eight weeks to go before the November vote; only a couple states that remain in play have significant Jewish populations that could turn as a result (e.g., Ohio and Florida), and those populations would have to believe that the U.S. should declare its hand to the world about its intentions. It’s awfully difficult to follow that logic to a meaningful change in the voting blocs.

Absolutely Bibi is upset and feels bullied by the Americans to wait. But remember what his mantra has been all along — no one can tell Israel what to do. So for him to take his stance of self-determination and then turn around and castigate the U.S. for asking Israel to wait, doesn’t quite ring true.

Let’s be abundantly clear here: No one who supports the existence and security of Israel, and is of sound mind, fails to recognize some major level of threat from Iran. At very least, if the rogue nation obtains nukes, the balance of power in the Middle East will change dramatically. That’s a specter that should not only alarm Israel; Arab nations, hardly a bloc of Iran-lovers, ought be pondering the consequences as they misguidedly point their citizens’ hatred toward the Jewish State.

And the worst? The most direct statement of the threat appears in yesterday’s edition of the online Times of Israel (www.timesofisrael.com). Dr. Gregory Stanton, who founded the group Genocide Watch, indicates that of his eight-point classification of genocide predictability – classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination and denial – Iran has already whipped through the first six in relation to genocide directed at Israel and Jews.

Many say being the Israeli Prime Minister is the toughest job in the world – yes, tougher than American president, given the extreme threats, both internal and existential, that confront the tiny nation. So it’s perfectly understandable that even a tough-armored guy like Bibi shows signs of frustration and exasperation when the American-Israeli relationship cannot be effectively managed in a way that best suits his situation.

Still, the goal of the prime minister, whoever it is, must be to act in a way that maximizes the prospect of safety for his or her country. By letting the disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem get the better of him in public rhetoric, there’s little substantive relative to Israeli security that’s likely to be gained.

It may be that Bibi wishes the American administration comprised different people, or a different party, or that its diplomacy was conducted differently. It may be that he wishes the U.S. would agree with Israel that the right time for attack is sooner than later and that sanctions are ultimately ineffectual. And it may be that he thinks that our country’s support for Israel is waning, regardless of who’s in charge.

Those are all reasonable thoughts to tick through, along with many others, when he and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak are considering whether Israel should or shouldn’t initiate unilateral conduct against Iran. But those who would avoid or deflect criticism of Bibi by pointing fingers at American policy should remember he has continued to insist on Israel’s right to make decisions independently of the U.S. He most definitely has that right, and with that right comes the responsibility to be judged appropriately on his own conduct.