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Netanyahu's odd Iran strategy


Back when I wrote about things that weren't health-care reform, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about Israel. And now that we're slowly reaching a time when I can write about things that aren't health-care reform, Israel is back in the news. I'd say huzzah, if the situation weren't so sad. Fareed Zakaria comments:

After watching Netanyahu's government over the past year, I have concluded that he is actually not serious about the Iranian threat. If tackling the rise of Iran were his paramount concern, would he have allowed a collapse in relations with the United States, the country whose military, political, and economic help is indispensable in confronting this challenge? If taking on Iran were his central preoccupation, wouldn't he have subordinated petty domestic considerations and done everything to bolster ties with the United States? Bibi likes to think of himself as Winston Churchill, warning the world of a gathering storm. But he should bear in mind that Churchill's single obsession during the late 1930s was to strengthen his alliance with the United States, whatever the costs, concessions, and compromises he had to make.

In a smart piece of analysis in Israel's Haaretz newspaper, Anshel Pfeffer, no fan of the Obama administration, writes, "When senior ministers or generals list Israel's defense priorities, there is always one point on which there exists total consensus: The alliance with the United States as the nation's greatest strategic asset, way above anything else. It is more crucial than the professionalism of the Israel Defense Forces, than the peace treaty with Egypt and even than the secret doomsday weapons that we may or may not have squirreled away somewhere…But [Netanyahu] has succeeded in one short year in power to plunge Israel's essential relationship with the United States to unheard of depths."

Photo credit: By Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

By Ezra Klein  |  March 26, 2010; 4:26 PM ET
Categories:  Israel/Palestine  
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You know, I'm actually looking forward to getting to respond to idiots who accuse Ezra of being anti-Semitic. I'm tired of responding to idiots that claim he's a fascist Nazi Socialist. Should be fun!

Posted by: MosBen | March 26, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Apparently Israel's rightwingers aren't any better at governing than America's rightwingers.

By the way, how much foreign aid do we give Israel every year? Just wondering.

Posted by: nisleib | March 26, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

@nisleib about $3 billion. Seems like Netanyahu's gamble is that the US-Israel bond is so strong that he can do whatever he wants in the short term. In some ways, Israel is like a "too big to fail" company; critical to our overall interests, with an explicit bail out guarantee, but with a very different agenda than its protector.

Posted by: etdean1 | March 26, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I like Zakaria, and I appreciate having commentators who focus so much on what you might call the technical aspects of foreign relations.

Still, it's hard to talk about the peace process in Israel and Palestine while dodging around the moral dimensions. For years, Israel has argued -- correctly, I think -- that it couldn't just let the Palestinians loose without compromising its security. Well, the West Bank Palestinians have been incredibly quiet for several years now, and the government there is a moderate group interested in running the West Bank like a normal country and without any interest in invading Israel.

The point here being, if Arafat blew a chance at peace ten years ago, then Netanyahu is doing his best to blow peace now. There is not a legitimate argument for why the West Bank must continue to be under occupation, or for why settlements should continue to expand and displace Palestinians when ample land is already available within Israel's internationally recognized borders.

But what Netanyahu is blowing here is not just a shot at Israel's security. He's pursuing a course that is indifferent to the basic rights which Palestinians are due simply by virtue of being humans. Our nation is founded on the concept that certain rights are inalienable. Right now, Netanyahu's government stands firmly in opposition to that claim.

Zakaria's hands are tied to some degree because American coverage of Israel and Palestine is so focused on what is best for the Israeli people and not on what is best for all the people in the region. Hence his article, where Netanyahu's behavior is seen as an obstacle to Israel's security, a threat to Israel's Jewishness, or as a threat to Israel's democracy. Yet Zakaria gets cold feet about simply pointing out that, all strategic implications aside, what Netanyahu is doing is *inherently* wrong because of what it does to *Palestinians* -- that there is something intrinsically wrong with evicting someone from their home in the name of nationalism, that there is something intrinsically wrong with the occupation of one people by another, and that these are the direct and immediate consequences of Netanyahu's approach.

Posted by: jeffwacker | March 26, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

shorter etdean1: AIPAC

Posted by: rjewett | March 26, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I think the heart of Israeli exceptionalism is that no american president ever wants to start an unnecessary political fight by denouncing Israel. But Netanyahu is doing his damndest to chance that. If he keeps alienating the american people with this much intensity, denouncing Israel will stop being a third rail.

And if that happens the US doesn't have the slightest strategic interest in making nice with Israel.

Posted by: theamazingjex | March 26, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

AIPAC certainly is a factor, along with the strong support for Israel in the evangelical community, that would definitely lead Israeli leaders to believe that there isn't much of a downside to irritating the US. Because of those internal politics, Netanyahu doesn't face any credible threat of an actual loss of support.

Posted by: etdean1 | March 26, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

president obama once again, deserves full credit and support for taking a strong, humanitarian position, demanding a freezing of the settlements. i believe that netanyahu is making a grave political miscalculation, defying president obama, and cleaving to a policy that is inhumane, and has nothing to do with the precepts at the heart of the jewish religion.
to stare down the money and power of aipac is no small feat, and requires much, much courage, aipac has become the "for us or against voice" in american jewish life....creating their own definition of what constitutes a "good and loyal jewish person."
i urge anyone who is concerned about the political and humanitarian consequences in the conflict, to learn about, and support jstreet.
if you go to their site, you can learn more about what has recently happened, regarding campaign contributions that were returned to them, and how they have been treated by the israeli government.
a voice of reason and compassion.

Posted by: jkaren | March 26, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I actually think Netanyahu *does* face a credible risk of loss of support.

Americans have largely sided with Israel over time because we trusted their narrative more. They looked and talked more like Americans, and, within our borders, the people who cared most about the conflict were staunchly on Israel's side and were willing to go to town to make sure that Israel's voice dominated discussion.

The four things I see changing are that:

(1) Israel's expansion of the settlements highlights the fact that many Israelis do not, in fact, share normal American values;

(2) the Palestinian leadership, at least in the West Bank, has become much more westernized and sympathetic to American audiences;

(3) having American elected leadership willing to call out Israel changes the way that the American media covers the topic and arouses some nationalist pride; and

(4) the internet and the availability of distributed media enables channels of information to Americans that can't be filtered by political pressure or by the laziness of reporters who would rather talk to "experts" in the US rather than actually flying to the West Bank to investigate.

Posted by: jeffwacker | March 26, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I fail to see how Bibi's behavior bears on Iran. He has zero incentive to behave the way Zakaria seems to want him to behave. Can anyone honestly imagine Israel getting into a fight with Iran, and us not being on Israel's side?

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | March 26, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

i urge anyone interested in this topic, to watch this brief youtube, narrated by anna of the book,"witness in palestine," which should be required reading on the subject.

Posted by: jkaren | March 26, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Of course, from Netanyahu's point of view, it is the United States that needs to strengthen its relationship with Israel. You have to get your priorities straight.

Still, I wonder how much of this current flap isn't Netanyahu at all, but Lieberman and the radicals in charge of housing wandering off the reservation.

Posted by: pj_camp | March 26, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who has ever heard Netanyahu speak on the topic of Iran KNOWS the he believes Iran is a real existential threat to Israel. I believe the Israelis are quietly building up their stockpile of ballistic missles and preparing to take on Iran alone. Not only is Israel planning to take out Iran's nuclear facilities but also their electric grid to make it difficult to rebuild. Go israel. Mark Montgomery

Posted by: boboberg | March 26, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Israel does not need any nation to come to her aid because God is her protector. Genesis 12:3 states regarding Israel, "I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will (eventually) bless one another by your name." God likes the odds to line up against him so that his soveriegnty in all the affairs of men is made known. if you are interested, read Ezekial chapters 37 and 38. You will see that currently world events are taking shape to fullfill this prophecy. the nations are gatherin together against israel. they will come against her with a fury but at the right time God will intervene and save her. He will do this to show all the earth that he is a faithful God, even to the faithless person or nation. he is a God of covenant-keeping and he is holy. the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation it is about Christ the messiah. and, in the end...every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord....God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble...return to him and he will return to you.

Posted by: mad49hope | March 26, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

"God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble."

if this is true, then netanyahu has cause for concern

Posted by: jkaren | March 27, 2010 12:28 AM | Report abuse

If the Israelis are really worried about the mullah nukes, then they should tell the banks that deal with them, to make a choice between the mullahs and Israel. Once a bank like HSBC gets out of Iran, or even signals it might, the mullahs will get the message loud and clear.

Posted by: alimostofi | March 27, 2010 3:41 AM | Report abuse

The Word of God declares, in no uncertain terms, that HE will judge those nations and people that seek to divide HIS lands, the inheritance of Israel. For those of you who do not recognize Gods authority in this matter, I truly pity you. Your wilfull blindness will bring you deep sorrow.

Leadership in government comes and goes. Attitudes change with the wind, changing from generation to generation. But Gods preeminence, His authority and interests never change! I will not condemn Israel as a nation or a people, for it is not my place or yours to judge, for HE only, judges rightly.

Throughout mans history there have been wicked rulers and righteous men who ruled, at the pleasure of God. If Israels leadership rejects being coerced into a "two state" solution, then that is their right, as a soveriegn state. The wrongs they do can be no worse than the wrongs committed by those nations which accuse her and seek to manipulate her to their own purposes.

But many of you are carnal men who walk after the flesh and not after the Spirit of Truth. For in everything there is a season, a season to war, a season of peace, a season of hate, and a season of reconciliation or love. Answer me O man, who orders the seasons? Do you decalre that the holy God of Israel will not fulfill the propesies of the prophets of old concerning His people Israel? If God destroyed the Akimites, who were giants in the earth, for the sake of Israel, shall men prevent Him from fulfilling His promises?

In all these seasons there comes a time to reap that which has been sown. The words of the prophet of God declared this time. For the eyes of the world watches the middle east. In the fullness of time, the Lord of Hosts will reveal His wrath against those who make war against His holy city. That time is even before you, but you do not see it.

Soon, the "prince of darkness" of this world will walk among you, but you will not know him.

Posted by: Jordan48 | March 28, 2010 1:24 AM | Report abuse

Reply to jkaren:

"if this is true, then netanyahu has cause for concern"
The natural man, who rises to power and leadership, placed there by God, holds power and authority granted Him by God. If the man is evil he will fulfill a purpose which will bring about a second chain of events, which leads ultimately to the fulfillment of Gods purpose. We see this alot in the writings of the old testament. It does not change.

The events in the middle east which we now see unfolding, are creating an environment (stage if you wish) for the unfolding of biblical propesy. The battle of Gog and Magog. Do NOT confuse this prophecy with the battle of Armageddon, it is not. The "little horn" (anti-christ) will be at the center of Armageddon, he will not be among those who go into the valley of slaughter. Rosh and portions of the old Persian empire will wage war against Israel. These are Russian (Rosh) and Arab troops and armaments. Armageddon will come at a latter time.

None of you, with the exception of some, seem to get this. These prophesies in all prabability will be fulfilled within your generations lifetime. if not sooner. A generation, in the view point of God, is approximately 100 years. The Word of God declares that when the children of promise is gathered again back into Israel (the lands he promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses is what I mean when I say Israel) that this generation would not pass away until all things be fulfilled. What things? the Rapture of the Bride of Christ (the true church or body of Christ), the Batlle of God and Magog, the rise of the Anti-Christ, pretty much the WORST parts of Revelations and the bible, Armageddon...then Jesus will establish His throne in that holy city, Jerusalem. He will rule for One thousand years (the Mellennial reign of Christ. At the end of this time, satan, who has been bound for all this time, will be loosed from the pit and he will lead one-third of the nations of the world against Christ. This will be the end of the era of the natural man on earth!

Posted by: Jordan48 | March 28, 2010 2:05 AM | Report abuse

foot note: Israel became a soverein state on May 15, 1948. You do the math.

Posted by: Jordan48 | March 28, 2010 2:16 AM | Report abuse

US people have no common interest with Israel. US governments are under increasing pressure by American people to abandon supporting Israel, and they have already started the "change". The early 21st century conspiracies (twin-towers,...), and the invasions and violence in the Middle-East are the final moves of another dying empire. The more people are killed by Israel and US, the sooner Torah's prophecies about Israelis will happen.

Posted by: Koushan | March 28, 2010 2:46 AM | Report abuse

".then Jesus will establish His throne in that holy city, Jerusalem."

what i know, in this world, is that Jesus establishes a throne where there is goodness and kindness.
where there are families being displaced from their land, settlers pouring cement into the streams of palestinian farmers, poison sprinkled on their fields, children growing up in fear....and a government that condones this kind of violence, Jesus is not setting up a throne.
whatever consequences will emerge from all of this, utimately, i dont know. but what i do know, is that, as a person who is jewish by birth, it is not possible to celebrate passover this year, as the deliverance of the jews into a land of freedom, when netanyahu stands in defiant support of the settlements, and forges ahead in east jerusalem, and violates the freedom and dignity of palestinian men, women and children.
how can one celebrate the holiday of passover for jewish people, after the speech that netanyahu gave here last week?
except for personal symbolism of deliverance, the holiday cannot have meaning.
i feel like the highest principles of the religion have been been twisted. these are tragic policies that will have serious spiritual repercussions. it is a bad path.

Posted by: jkaren | March 28, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

It's time to have a public debate about the incredible costs to the average American that Israel's arrogant, presumptive relationship brings, in money, in world standing, in relationships throughout the world, and in security to our troops stationed abroad.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | March 28, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

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