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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/30/13

Israel and Iran: Is Netanyahu Winning or Losing?

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By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

If you have two Jews, you'll have three synagogues," my mother loved to say, and she would have taken delight in all the conflicting Jewish opinions about Obama's new penchant for striking deals rather than launching military strikes. Of all the mixed reactions, an op-ed I found in the Israeli daily Haaretz pushed me to think new thoughts.

"The truth," wrote the always interesting Avi Shilon, "is that Israel, in contradiction to Netanyahu's belligerent declarations, does not want to attack Iran, not alone and not with the help of the United States. That is a last option, whose effectiveness is not guaranteed, even in the opinion of those who favor a military strike. Israel -- also in contradiction to Netanyahu's declarations -- does not really fear a second Holocaust, but rather the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons, which weakens Israel strategically and is liable to cause the proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Shilon challenges the conventional wisdom, hardly confined to Jews, that the blustering Netanyahu could now be losing out to Obama's new initiatives on Syria and Iran. These are tactical defeats, the journalist concedes. But, he argues, they mask a resounding strategic success.

"The disarmament agreement in Syria produces a result more effective than any bomb -- even if it is not implemented in its entirety," Shilon writes. And now, in his opinion, Netanyahu wants nothing more than "to carry out in Iran what will happen in Syria," the peaceful dismantling of Iran's nuclear capability.

But, alas, poor Netanyahu, his bluster and fear-mongering must go on. "The trap in which Netanyahu finds himself lies in his inability to boast of an achievement," Shilon concludes. "If he declares he is satisfied, he will lose. He must continue to threaten. And, even as he continues clandestine cooperation with Obama, he must feign "ostensible disappointment in the Americans." In the end, Shilon believes, "historians will judge his Iranian policy positively."

Whose historians, I wonder, since I find little evidence in the real world that Netanyahu only plays Jewish jihadi as part of some Machiavellian strategy. But Shilon's logic has a certain plausibility, however distasteful its implications.

Netanyahu's incessant badgering -- and the threat that he might order an Israeli strike on Iran -- pressured Obama to repeat time and again that he was keeping the military option "on the table," a stance the Iranians correctly saw as bullying. Netanyahu pulled Obama into a covert war against Iran, including the use of the Stuxnet computer worm to attack the county's nuclear facilities. Netanyahu pressed Obama and his European allies to enforce the crippling economic sanctions that forced the Iranians to their current "heroic flexibility." Now, along with powerful friends like Rupert Murdoch and his Wall Street Journal, he could derail the coming of any Iranian-American detente. In all this, Netanyahu has no doubt enjoyed enormous success.

Shilon, the latest biographer of Menachem Begin, also hints at a parallel between the current Israeli prime minister and his predecessor. First stigmatized as the terrorist whose followers blew up the King David Hotel, Begin later won acclaim as the statesman who made peace at Camp David. Shilon heralds a similar resurrection for Netanyahu. Though I have always rejected Begin's politics, I do not think that Bibi comes anywhere close to filling the old man's shoes.

Stuck in the here and now, we can only judge Bibi Netanyahu as the nightmare man he plays on television. His latest drama is to push Washington to demand that the Iranians give up enrichment and most other elements of even a peaceful nuclear program. Call it chutzpah on steroids.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the Iranians have signed, guarantees them the right to enrich uranium and produce plutonium as long as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspects and monitors what they do. Israel refuses to sign the NPT, enriches uranium and separates plutonium without IAEA safeguards, and has an all-but-acknowledged arsenal of nuclear weapons

My mother, may she rest in peace, told a story. In 1929 or 1930, her mother -- my Grandma Rae -- was visiting her family in what was then Palestine. She happened to be at the beach near Tel Aviv one morning and saw hundreds of used condoms strewn about. She felt quite upset, until a wise friend put what she had seen into perspective. The condoms reflected the real meaning of Zionism. Living in a nascent "Jewish State," Jews would no longer be a persecuted minority and would become just like everyone else. They would have their own brilliant lawmakers and scientists, and their own gangsters and prostitutes.

Hardly original, the idea appears in early Zionist literature, which I long ago rejected because of its inescapable disdain for the rights of Palestinians. But the story gives a human insight into an always flawed Jewish nationalism that Netanyahu has distorted into "anything goes."

The story also illustrates how the world works. Every nation thinks itself special and wants to play by its own rules. Brits dream of their lost empire as they talk of punching beyond their weight in global affairs. The French look at the crisis in Syria and see an opportunity to exercise their mission to civilize the world. Iranians fulfill their destiny as inheritors of a great Persian and Islamic civilization. Chinese fulfill theirs as the ancient center of the world. Americans think they are exceptional, "a shining city on a hill" with the God-given right to set the rules, as President Obama had the balls to do in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

Playing by different rules may have been the thing to do in the Hobbesian jungle of the old game of nations. It will not work in an increasingly globalized world. But until the bigger powers give up their imperial pretensions and learn to play by the same rules as everyone else, the Israelis -- and Iranians -- will feel perfectly justified in playing whatever cards they can get away with.

Netanyahu is doing this in spades. If Avi Shilon is right, and on this I believe he is, the nightmare man and his supporters are truly dealing from the bottom of the deck, consciously stirring up irrational fear of a second Holocaust at the hands of Iran simply to bolster Israel's strategic role as a regional super power. Jews and non-Jews alike should reject this as the cynical ploy it is.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."

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