Bob Gates’s diagnosis was unflattering. The US defence secretary called him “arrogant”, “superficial”, and teeming with “outlandish ambition”. Gates even tried to get him banned from the White House grounds.
World leaders shared the same sentiments. The President of France said, “I can’t stand him. He’s a liar.” And the President of the United States, courtesy the same open mic, replied, “You’re sick of him? I have to work with him every day.”
Yes, Benjamin Netanyahu, he of silver hair and silver tongue, doesn’t bring out the best in people. The Israeli leadership has had its share of monsters, its Begins and Sharons. But Benny Netanyahu is a different kind of disease: a gentleman with a degree from MIT and an accent from Philadelphia.
Which is why, at first glance, the PM seems a lot more palatable than his predecessors, with their eye-patches and war crime inquiries.
And now he’s at it again. Though the White House seems to have taken Bob Gates’ advice — no invite was forthcoming — the Prime Minister of Israel went over everyone’s heads instead. Cutting the State Department out of the equation, the Republicans invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. A high-risk gambit, but Bibi’s seldom safe on anything — the ruins of Gaza stand testament. He accepted, sending the White House to sulk.
Susan Rice called the PM’s ways “destructive”. The National Security Adviser reserves such harshness not for when Israel murders Palestinian boys on beaches, but when it breaches State Department protocol.
Yes, Washington at its most dysfunctional perhaps: where Obama turns up his nose at Bibi, Jeb Bush holds the man’s hand. Candidate Jeb’s learned the hard way; his father’s and brother’s campaigns were given lukewarm receptions by Israeli interest groups (they thought the Bushes aloof, uncommitted and, irony of ironies, too close to the House of Saud).
Bibi’s making a point: he’s as frightened by Iran as he’s fed up with Obama, and now he’s taking his case directly to the people. Tweeted the PM, “I am leaving for Washington on a fateful, even historic mission,” as “the emissary of all Israelis.”
Fate happens to coincide with Israel’s election season, but that’s a petty point for Benny: he’s on a mission to save Judea and Samarra from the Persian Bomb. The average Israeli may be upset that he can’t lower living costs, but Netanyahu’s out to save the state itself — if not from rising prices, than certainly falling warheads.
And he’s pulled out all the stops: Netanyahu’s address was loud, hammy, and intellectually dishonest, which is why it bagged 26 standing ovations and 39 interruptions for applause. Yes, 11 minutes of Netanyahu’s 40-minute speech consisted of Congressmen clapping like circus seals.
It’s odd that the man warning against the Jewish people’s historical persecution was met with the same delirious applause we associate with the communist regimes that did much of that persecuting — but that may be digressing.
So to the speech. Netanyahu was clear and crude: Iran is fundamentally irrational; regime change should have happened yesterday; and Iran’s nuking Israel wasn’t a matter of if, but when. More than one critic’s already pointed out the obvious — that Iran’s dropping a bomb on Israel would theoretically kill the same Palestinians it’s dropping the bomb for in the first place.
But that’s immaterial for Bibi: Iran is, after all, crazy. Hammering his point home, Bibi let fly comparisons to the craziest gents in the region, “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam,” he said. “One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world.”
And the teeny fact that both want to destroy each other? Bibi, of course, has an answer for that too. “When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.” Well shame on Obama, for thinking the enemy of your friend doesn’t have to be your enemy too.
Then again, Netanyahu thinks any pack of Muslims, near and far, looks like ISIS. Wailed Netanyahu at the UN last year, “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.”
Thus the theocrats of Tehran are the same as the elected hardliners of Hamas are the same as the drug-addled criminals of ISIS. The comparison wears thin after the hundredth application — as well as the theory that Iran is irrational enough to nuke Israel, but rational enough to be cowed by tougher sanctions.
Amid the bluster, the PM’s also making a criminal omission: the last time Benjamin Netanyahu pushed for regime change, he ended up with ISIS. Pleaded Bibi to the US in 2002, “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.”
Yes, vibes so glorious, the US is stuck in the same quicksand 13 years later, having birthed the world’s first terrorist proto-state. Of course, there’s no sating Tel Aviv: it wants the US to invade Iran, it wanted the US to invade Syria, and it invaded Lebanon all by itself in 2006… and lost.
And all that war is starting to catch up. Last Sunday, tens of thousands of Israelis called for Netanyahu’s replacement in the upcoming elections. Marking the demo, a war widow asked Israel to vote for a leader who wouldn’t send locals into more wars. “Yes, Mr Prime Minister, what’s important is life itself, but it’s impossible to speak all the time about Iran and to turn a blind eye to the bloody conflict with the Palestinians which costs us so much blood.”
A conflict that’s spilt damningly more Palestinian blood than Israeli. That even the Israeli populace feels fatigued is a sign Netanyahu’s war cries are falling on deaf ears.
Which all brings us to another speech, made in another era, by another Prime Minister. “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” cried a younger, slimmer Bibi Netanyahu. “The deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”
He was addressing Congress in 1996.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2015.
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