Binyamin Netanyahu, who is likely to be the next Prime Minister of Israel, has some advice for President Barack Obama that he might not want to hear. The advice concerns Obama’s plans to engage Iran diplomatically.
Binyamin Netanyahu wants Obama to “limit his engagement with Iran to a set time and insist on a final outcome of dismantling its nuclear program” according to the Jerusalem Post. Binyamin Netanyahu also suggested that if Iran remained recalcitrant, no other option, presumably including a military strike, should be taken off the table.
Complicating Barack Obama’s diplomatic strategy, Binyamin Netanyahu also suggested, following the lead of European leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that a diplomatic engagement before the Iranian Presidential elections in June might have the unintended effect of bolstering current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even if Ahmadinejad lost, whoever replaces him might not be an improvement insofar as the security of Israel, Iran’s Arab neighbors, Europe, and the United States are concerned.
While Barack Obama may approach the Middle East in the mode of a community organizer, with the idea that the players in the region are simply like the gang bangers and other interest groups he dealt with, Binyamin Netanyahu has no such luxury. The great game Israel has been compelled to play for the past sixty years of its existence has not been for political or economic advantage, but for survival. A nuclear warhead, mated to the sorts of missiles that Iran recently used to launch a satellite, threatens that survival as nothing has before since the eve of the Six Day War.
Israel lives in the shadow of the Holocaust, which happened as a result of repeated attempts to appease Adolf Hitler. Every time democratic countries such as Britain and France tried to buy off Hitler with grants of other peoples’ land, such as when Hitler grabbed first the Sudetenland and then all of Czechoslovakia, Hitler was only emboldened to try to grab more.
Binyamin Netanyahu might be forgiven if, in Barack Obama, he sees the ghost of Neville Chamberlain. Naive American Presidents (Jimmy Carter comes to mind) who just want the Middle East players to get along have been the bane of Israel’s existence. The formula for peace in the Middle East that has too often been pursued by American politicians like Obama has been for Israel to make concessions, as if it is the fault of the Israelis that they are hated by their Muslim neighbors. Usually those concessions have involved “land for peace”, which has a spotty record. Israel coughing up the Sinai did achieve a kind of cold peace with Egypt. The total withdraw from Gaza about a year ago brought nothing but more rocket attacks and terrorism from Hamas, though.
One wonders what sort of concessions Israel might be demanded to make in response to Iran’s nuclear threats. Barack Obama must have something in mind. The only other way to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear weapon is to apply the stick, to suggest that if Iran does not lose its nuclear weapons program, the United States, perhaps in partnership with Israel, will deal with the matter itself in a way Iran will not like.
Barack Obama is obvious in his desire to avoid a military confrontation with Iran at all costs. The Iranians sense that desire and it will likely harden their position in any negotiations. Binyamin Netanyahu, though, is not that finicky, and if it looks like Obama’s diplomacy is not working, Binyamin Netanyahu is more than ready to use the other option, unilaterally if need be.
Sources: Netanyahu: I hope Obama will clock Iran, Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, February 4th, 2009
Obama Letter to Iran to Open Diplomatic Initiative, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, January 29th, 2009
Report: Iran Launches Satellite, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, February 3rd, 2009