Not in a long time have lovers of Israel and democracy been able to feel proud of an Israeli prime minister. Golda Meir provided such moments. Menachem Begin provided such moments. And last week, at the UN, Benjamin Netanyahu made us proud. Clearly, he has grown since his first prime ministership, 1996-1999, and he has grown even since he took office earlier this year.
First and foremost, he is focused on Iran, not on peace with the Palestinians. This is as it should be. The Iranian threat against Israel reiterated explicitly last week at the UN is existential, direct and immediate. The festering Palestinian problem, which is no doubt critical, does not, and should not, dominate an Israeli leaders attention right now. So it was in Netanyahus eloquent and brutally honest speech at the UN.
The complete text is reprinted on page 3 this week of the IJN*; we need not review it in detail here, save to say: It was an exercise in leadership, a model that President Obama could follow. This, in two senses.
First, Obama has been talking about talking to the Iranians since he took office Jan. 20. His first such talk was actually scheduled for yesterday, Oct. 1.
Thats more than seven months wasted a seven-month gift to the Iranians to boost their nuclear weapons research and their missile delivery capacity.
Netanyahu is taking every possible opportunity to make it clear to Obama, to the US and to the world that while they may dally, Israel cannot afford to.
Israel is a few hundred miles from Iran, not a few thousand and certainly not a continent nor an ocean away. Not to mention, Israel is the only country threatened with annihilation by Iran.
Should Israel attack Iran, no country and no organization can say that it is surprised, and no country or organization can say that it did enough to make an Israeli attack unnecessary.
Second, Obama has been pressing Israel on concessions to the Palestinians. Netanyahu made the appropriate response, also an existential point: Israel withdrew from Gaza to get peace, and instead got thousands of missiles hurled at its civilians. To defend itself, Israel went to war against Gaza. If Israel will not be backed up now in its right of self-defense warned Netanyahu no Israeli government will take any risks for peace again.The promises of American or international support for such risks will be empty.
Thats why Netanyahu made such a big deal out of the biased UN-sponsored Goldstone report on the Israeli invasion of Gaza last December and January, whose conclusions were drawn before its investigation began. If Netanyahu went down last week as an eloquent defender of his people, Goldstone went down as a dense, misguided, nitpicking accuser of his people.
We quote Netanyahu on Allied behavior against Germany during WW II for bombing civilians in Britain:
During that war, the Allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Israel chose to respond differently. Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.
Will the US and the UN stand up for Israels right to self-defense, and Israels behavior in Gaza? If not, said Netanyahu, no further risks for peace will be forthcoming from Israel.
Remember, the war in Gaza was conducted not by Netanyahu, and not by a rightist government. It was conducted by a leftist government. On the matter of self-defense, on Israels right to exist, there is no difference between the left and the right in Israel.
Is Obama listening?
Initial reports suggest that the US will veto the Goldstone report in the Security Council (if it gets that far). This is to the good. But on Iran? We dont think Obama is listening. We dont think Obama gets it.
Not the Iranian threat to Israel, which cannot defend itself on the basis of a shift in missile strategy in Europe.
Not the Iranian threat to Europe, whose new American missiles, even if they work, and even if they are positioned in time, will not stop Irans nuclear weapons program, against which no missile defense system anywhere, of any kind, will stop every single Iranian nuclear-tipped missile. It only takes one . . .
Not the Iranian threat to the US, whose culture is detested by the Iranian leadership, which will stop at nothing against Israel, against Europe, against
American targets themselves to destroy it. Since most Americans, certainly including Barack Obama, do not take religion seriously in the way that Iranians (and other Middle Easterners) do, Obama cannot grasp the direct threat that Irans passionate, focused, deliberate, tenacious pursuit of nuclear weapons poses.
Netanayahu told it like it is.
Obama should be grateful.