And this time, it’s hard to see who will be able to stop him.
Netanyahu hasn’t said anything publicly, but the consensus here is that the lesson he’s taking from Obama’s refusal to bomb Syria straight away, and instead to turn to Congress for approval, is that the U.S. president can’t be trusted to keep his word about preventing Iran from going nuclear – so he, Netanyahu, must prepare to carry out the task alone. And the consensus seems to be that this is the correct conclusion, too.
“Netanyahu was right when he sought to act [against Iran in the past] on his own. No others will do the job,” wrote Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Yoaz Hendel, who used to be the PM’s hasbara chief.
Herb Keinon, the Jerusalem Post’s pro-government diplomatic correspondent, wrote:
The lack of a strong international response in the face of rows and rows of gassed bodies wrapped eerily in white shrouds just 220 kilometers from Jerusalem might not compel Israel to take action against Assad, but it surely may compel it to think twice about relying on the world to rid it of the Iranian nuclear menace.
Even Haaretz’s liberal military affairs reporter Amos Harel seems to see the wisdom in this view:
The theory that the U.S. will come to Israel’s aid at the last minute, and attack Iran to lift the nuclear threat, seems less and less likely. … With the U.S. administration’s year of hesitancy since Assad first deployed chemical weapons, American difficulty in building an international coalition for a strike in Syria, and [U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin] Dempsey’s excuses, it’s no wonder that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming increasingly persuaded that no one will come to his aid if Iran suddenly announces that it is beginning to enrich uranium to 90 percent.
I think it is pretty obvious that this indeed is Netanyahu’s thinking. He wanted to bomb Iran last year, sometime before the U.S. presidential election in November; what stopped him (and his partner, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak) was the opposition of Israel’s military-intelligence leadership, headed by IDF Chief Benny Gantz. Afterward Netanyahu went to the UN and drew a cartoon bomb with a red line, saying that Iran would cross it and come within reach of a nuclear bomb “next spring, at most by next summer, at current [uranium] enrichment rates.” Then, two months ago, Bibi’s red line got effectively erased as the moderate Hassan Rouhani was elected to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, and the West gained new hope that diplomacy could ensure that Iran didn’t go nuclear. Netanyahu, of course, considered that the usual Western liberal naiveté, but it seemed too outrageous for Israel to go bombing Iran on its own, with all the consequences that could bring, when the US and other world powers not only opposed an attack but were actively trying to persuade Iran, with its new, reformist president, into seeing things their way. The military option against Iran would be “off the table” for a year or so, it was assumed. The opposition from Israel’s warrior class remained fully in place. Netanyahu couldn’t have persuaded them otherwise, and may not even have wanted to, given the international mood.
All that may very well have changed last night. As the commentators quoted above and others are saying, Netanyahu’s well-known dictum that “Israel can only depend on itself” has been vindicated by the performance of Obama and the rest of the world in the Syrian crisis. The U.S. president can’t be trusted to bomb Iran’s nukes, and since, according to Netanyahu, his government and even the Israeli military-intelligence establishment, a nuclear-armed Iran “is not an option,” that would seem to knock the legs out from under the argument made by Gantz and the rest of the war council in favor of restraint.
That argument, which was made in leaks to the media by the warriors and publicly by President Shimon Peres, and which was backed by a majority of the Israeli public in polls, held that the wisest course by far would be to let America bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities because it had the military means to do it much more decisively than Israel could. Another, related argument was that if Israel attacked Iran without U.S. support, it would be politically calamitous. A third, related argument was that at best, an Israeli strike would set back Iran’s nuclear program by a year or so, which was not worth the missiles and political isolation Israel would get in return. The conclusion from all three arguments was: trust Obama, at least until he gives Israel reason not to trust him.
That reason was just provided last night from the podium on the White House lawn. Even if Congress agrees to an attack on Syria and Obama carries it out, the likely limits on such a strike, and above all Obama’s extremely uncertain route to executing it (if he does), will not redeem his newly dashed reputation among the tough guys who run this country. It appears Netanyahu has won the argument. In a month or so, after the High Holidays, I expect the countdown to resume on an Israeli strike on Iran, and this time I don’t know who will be able to stop it.