Netanyahu and Obama Play High-Stakes Poker over Iran


Haaretz’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn says PM’s planned trip to Washington will be the most fateful of his political career.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Washington will be the most important one in his long career as ambassador, politician and national leader. On Monday, Netanyahu will meet President Barack Obama in the White House for a game of diplomatic poker, where the greatest gamble of all will be right on the table: an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. Each of the two players will try to push the other to act. Netanyahu would prefer to see the American superpower, with its vast range of military capabilities, pulverize Iran’s nuclear project. For his part, Obama would prefer, if an attack must be launched, that the job be done by Israel, while the United States would serve as the “responsible adult” who comes in afterward to make order in the Middle East.

For three years, Netanyahu has been preparing for this very moment. During this period, he has chalked up for himself a diplomatic coup that initially was seen as unimaginable: He has managed to turn the superpower’s political agenda upside-down – from “Palestine first” to “Iran as top priority.” In his first meeting with Obama, in May 2009, after both had taken office, the premier was very clear about his concern about the Iranian threat, while Obama insisted on talking about a freeze on settlements in the West Bank. At the time, the U.S. president described a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and an end to the occupation and the settlements in the territories as a vital American security interest. He forced Netanyahu to support the creation of a Palestinian state and to freeze all construction in the settlements for 10 months.
Today, in retrospect, these ideas sound ludicrous. The settlements have long since disappeared from America’s national agenda and Israel’s right-wing government has been diligently developing and expanding them, in accordance with its ideology and without any annoying external interference. Netanyahu has defeated his Palestinian rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who tried unsuccessfully to secure the United Nations’ recognition of a Palestinian state, while the reaction in Israel to talk of the threat of a third intifada is little more than one big yawn.
Israeli public opinion is chiefly preoccupied today with the price of gasoline and the issue of ultra-Orthodox Jews serving in the army. The Palestinians have been forgotten. Netanyahu has proven that it is possible to drastically reduce the dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to a war of speeches and press statements that he is waging with Abbas without having to pay an international price.
Netanyahu has made good use of Obama’s Republican rivals, who have made threatening Iran a central issue in their presidential primaries and have forced the president to go on the defensive. The upheavals of the “Arab Spring” have positioned Israel as an island of stability in the Middle East, in comparison with the disintegrating Arab states. To outflank Turkey, Iran and Egypt, Netanyahu has invested considerable efforts into creating a new Israeli “peripheral alliance” with Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Azerbaijan and Uganda.
However, the prime minister’s greatest achievement has been to persuade the international community that Israel intends to bomb Iran and has the capability to do so, and that Israel intends to plunge the entire Middle East into a war that will cause gasoline prices to skyrocket. The combination of threatening declarations and briefings, especially from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and long-range training missions conducted by the Israel Air Force has shown the world that Israel means business. That is the reason for the flurry of visits by senior U.S. administration officials, who have been coming here and asking Israel to “give the sanctions a chance.”
Source: | Aluf Benn