Bet on Bibi

By David T. Jones on September 30, 2012

Washington, DC- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or “Bibi” as he is widely known is not President Obama’s favorite person.  Indeed, he is so controversial, personally and politically, that the president apparently decided that it was better to meet with no foreign leaders while at the UN General Assembly speechathon than to be forced, de facto, to meet with Netanyahu.  (That Obama had time to meet with View is another story).  Essentially, if he met with any leader, he would be compelled also to have a session with Netanyahu.

The political logic is cynical albeit compelling.  No foreign leader one-on-one will get Obama votes in Ohio, but a session with Netanyahu would be as volatile as juggling nitroglycerin vials.  And the American-Jewish community is no longer as enchanted with the purveyor of “Hope and Change” as in 2008.  

Netanyahu has one primary objective:  a “red line” commitment by the president to attack Iran if it moves closer to obtaining nuclear weapons.  It is not enough for Netanyahu that America states  an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable or to implement extensive/intensive painful economic sanctions on Tehran.  Reinforced by a compelling “never again” all-but-genetic imprint, Netanhyahu sees an existential threat from nuclear Iran.  It is one that cannot be ignored; cannot be “lived with” as states have lived with a nuclear-armed North Korea and Pakistan; and must be definitively countered.

Netanyahu may be wrong (and there is internal Israeli debate on the proximity of an Iranian bomb), but the pertinent point is Netanyahu is convinced, heads a strong majority government, and leads a society that would back military strikes should they be ordered.

President Obama wants more wiggle room.  Presumably he believes an Iranian nuke is sufficiently far into the future for diplomacy, economic sanctions, and clandestine programs (computer viruses, adroit assassinations, sabotage) to defer/delay Tehran’s nuclear program until there is regime change (or the current regime abandons its nuclear program).  Intelligence can be contradictory (one remembers the Iraq “weapons of mass destruction” fiasco), and Americans living considerable distance from Tehran can be sanguine.  After all, like Dicken’s Mr. Micawber, “Something will turn up.” 

More fundamentally, Netanyahu is viewed as an implacable obstacle to the Middle East restructuring that Obama seeks to create.  Indeed, his June 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world (when he visited regional states but not Israel) was an implicit promise to Arabs that he would act to resolve the Israel-Palestinian deadlock.  The USG created a high-powered infrastructure led by the well-regarded former senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace—which has gone absolutely nowhere.  The Palestinians blame the Israelis for continuing aggressive construction in the West Bank; the Israelis note the absence of anyone akin to an “interlocuteor valable” among the Palestinians divided as they remain between the terrorist Hamas and hapless Palestinian Authority.  And Washington often appears to blame Netanyahu for intransigence and general unwillingness to be creative, i.e., offer concessions that might provide an opportunity for negotiating progress.  Netanyahu must snicker; he’s been there; endured that; and knows the politics of the region infinitely better than the not-even-one-term senator who is now president.  

Moreover, Netanyahu knows U.S. politics better than any other foreign leader.  He lived in the USA as a child and has two university degrees from U.S. universities—as well as being an Israeli Special Forces combat leader.  Once the political counselor at the Israeli embassy in Washington, he reportedly telephoned senior U.S. officials to adjust the draft human rights report on Israel to Tel Aviv’s liking.  Obama responds with petty snubs, e.g., letting Netanyahu and entourage cool their heels while Obama enjoyed a family dinner (that will tell you what’s important).  Netanyahu responds with an address to a joint session of Congress in May 2011—his second such honor—and receives repeated standing O’s during his 45 minute address.  He pointedly rejected Obama’s program for peace negotiations based on the 1967 borders.

But while currently worse than the norm, Bibi has long been a thorn in the U.S. foreign policy paw.  As prime minister from 1996-99, he reached some agreements with Yasser Arafat (e.g., Wye Plantation accord) but was roundly disliked by the Clinton administration which quietly assisted Ehud Barak during the 1999 election and reportedly was delighted with Barak’s victory.

But Barak came a cropper; refusing even to meet with Arafat at the July 2000 Camp David summit and, after time in the political wilderness, Bibi reincarnated now leads an Israel unwilling to accommodate U.S. preferences.  

Bet on Bibi.



Please login to post comments.

Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

Redacteur en chef et Editeur

Alan Hustak

Senior Editor

Daniel Laprès


Robert J. Galbraith


Roy Piberberg

Editorial Artwork

Mike Medeiros

Copy and Translation

Val Prudnikov

IT Director and Web Design

Editorial Contributors
La Patrie