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Price tag of the Iran scare campaign revealed

Between NIS 10 and 11 billion were used in preparations for an attack that was never meant to happen. This incredibly expensive and ultimately failed political maneuver should be the focus of the next election. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks before the UN General Assembly, September 27th 2012. The effect of the cartoon bomb made most people miss the fact that Netanyahu moved the deadline for an attack till next spring (Photo: Avi Ochayon, Government Press Office)

Unless Netanyahu is crazier than is commonly assumed, Israel will not attack Iran in the near future. Until quite recently, Netanyahu stubbornly claimed that Israel must attack Iran before the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. This was a calculated attempt by Netanyahu to put pressure on Barack Obama and advance the chances of Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

This attempt at psychological warfare utterly failed: Obama, ice-cold, didn’t blink; he referred to Netanyahu’s demands as “background noise,” and adamantly refused to change his position. He left Netanyahu with no choice but to go to his Canossa, the UN General Assembly, and to make a retreat speech there. The bomb and fuse drawing (“this is the bomb, this is the fuse…” – possibly the lowest point ever reached by an Israeli prime minister) devoured all the attention – and camouflaged the only important part of that speech. Netanyahu announced that he postponed his threat to attack Iran to the spring or summer of 2013. Anything can happen until then – and as it looks, Netanyahu will dismiss the Knesset and go to elections before that time.

So Netanyahu’s attempt at a nerve war failed. Now we must ask how much it cost us. Let’s begin with the intangibles: How much damage will Israel suffer from a president who has to consider its prime minister to be a political rival or, at the least, an ally of his political rivals? How much damage will Israel take in U.S. liberal opinion, and actually in the mind of any American patriot, when the American public will begin to understand that Israel is no ally, but at best a cross the U.S. has to bear?

Obama’s former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, told Obama last summer that Israel is “an ungrateful ally.” As part of the shadowboxing between the U.S. administration and the government of the country it funds and arms, Gates also said recently that neither Israel nor the U.S. has the military capability to stop the Iranian nuclear plan, and that such an attack would only hasten it. The first part is not new – Gen. Dempsey said as much back in August. The second part, however, may indicate that a faction in the U.S. administration is moving away from supporting an attack an Iran, or may provide cover for Obama when he decides not to attack. This cannot be seen as a success by Netanyahu.

For years, Netanyahu’s supporters told us he is a master at reading the U.S. public, but ever since he landed in the PM’s office he has failed time after time. Well, those same people also told us he was a brilliant ambassador to the UN. Given that his last three major speeches in the United States involved waving a cartoon bomb, the plans of the death camp Auschwitz, and muttering something about a nuclear duck, we may safely assume this is another self-manufactured legend.

We cannot put a price on the diplomatic damage caused by Netanyahu’s phony war, but we do have a fiscal price tag for it. Haaretz columnist Amos Harel estimates (Hebrew) that the preparations for attacking Iran under Netanyahu and Barak cost some 10 billion NIS (some $2.5 billion). Nahum Barnea, writing in Yediot Ahronot on Friday, cites a similar sum: he writes that Netanyahu and Barak spent some NIS 11 billion (somewhat less than $3 billion) on the preparations for war with Iran. Barnea finishes that part of the column by writing that “if I was an American president, I would conclude there is some irony in the fact that a country which receives generous military support from America and spends it in putting pressure on America. Someone may conclude Israel bites the hand that feeds it.”

Netanyahu and Barak spent some 10 to 11 billion shekels on their failed maneuver. Neither Harel nor Barne’a cite their source, but I’ll take the risk and wager that it is Ehud Barak, playing his usual role of the scorpion biting the frog which carried it to safety, now attacking Netanyahu in the media (actually, counter-attacking: Netanyahu’s people spent a lot of energy attacking Barak this week.)

So, we spent at least NIS 10 billion on nothing. Money which could be spent on healthcare, on education, on our shaky infrastructure, dissipated like gas fumes. Barak and Netanyahu took our fate to the casino – their war game could easily have gotten out of hand – and lost unimaginable sums of money. And, given the fact that we give our leaders carte blanche when it comes to so-called “security” expenses, no one will ever pay the price.

The public erupted in outrage when our ministers wanted a few measly millions for new fancy cars. NIS 10 billion evaporated, and all the government has to show for it is diplomatic damage and the promotion of Israel’s image as the region’s mad dog, and no one is protesting.

It should also be noted that while NIS 10 billion is a large sum indeed, it is relatively small compared to the lakes of dollars spent by the IDF in the last 20 years on preparing for attack on Iran. We now know the IDF knows it can’t attack in Iran – it was making such noises as long back as 2006 – yet it took the money and spent it anyway. The colonels and generals responsible for this criminal waste of public money are likely to carry on their careers, and retire on a fat public pension for their dubious service.

It’s hard to disagree with Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Yigal Serna, who wrote passionately and well (Hebrew) that “therefore, every time they shout at you: Iran! Shout back: Pillage. Remember that Bibi’s ‘Iran’ shout is not meant to save your lives or that of your children, but for protecting the right to pillage. Iran is merely a campaign of distraction, carried out in full cooperation between Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Netanyahu. Two loquacious-inciting politicians of many interests, one protecting the franchise holders of the Revolutionary Guards who became rich as Croesus, and the other is guarding the tycoons and the [Likud] Party Center members. Both sides made plenty of lucre under the nationalistic distraction.”

And that is what the coming elections should be about: How much did your scaremongering campaign cost us, Mr. Netanyahu, and what do you have to show for it?

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    1. Andrew

      “How much damage will Israel take in U.S. liberal opinion, and actually in the mind of any American patriot, when the American public will begin to understand that Israel is no ally, but at best a cross the U.S. has to bear?”
      This depends. There will undoubtedly be some fallout. But among that segment of the American population for whom “supporting” Israel is the biggest issue, i.e., the Christians United for Israel evangelical crowd, it doesn’t matter how much “supporting” Israel costs the U.S. They believe that God wants the U.S. to stand by Israel, that the future of the U.S. as a country is bound up with its willingness to provide unwavering support for Israel’s leaders, no matter how rash or aggressive.
      Netanyahu understands this, and he manipulates evangelical ardor for Israel shamelessly. As does his ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. It is important to understand this. Much of Netanyahu’s posturing is done for that significant segment of the American population who will adore him without thinking, no matter how radical his warmongering becomes.

      Reply to Comment
      • It is not that one has to support Israel to have a prosperous American, but that one must obey God in all things; if one does’t, there are consequences, of course.

        I doubt Yossi is right that all the money evaporated; some material gains for the IDF seems likely. Conservatives would find that sufficient, I think. The point is to be ever ready for war; they define war liberally, although not using that word.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      Not an election issue, since in Israel the IDF is the so-called “deputy of God”, and its word is for all intents and purposes, law. So, if the IDF asks for more money – even if it’s totally unnecessary and wasteful – the people will ALWAYS give it the benefit of the doubt. On this issue, Bibi is safe. Of course, you brought up his disgraceful performance at the U.N., which I totally agree was the most shameful moment for Israel in the international arena that I can remember; on THIS issue, I would assume Israelis would send him packing. Unfortunately, I also recognize that most Israelis are easily impressionable dumb asses, who actually LIKED Bibi’s performance at U.N. Conclusion: Bibi is probably safe going into the elections.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Philos

      Some surprising optimism from Y.G. in the Israeli electorate. Sadly I don’t think most Jewish Israelis will ask these questions and Shelly Yachomovich won’t ask them either.
      We will get a government led by Netenyahu with Yachomovich serving as deputy PM and minister of social justice. Although I am of the opinion that the government we all deserve is one under the leadership of Avigdor Liberman. He is the authentic voice of our national ethos and it is only fitting he should be PM. That way all the leftists like me can go live as expatriates in Europe and the USA without guilt 😉

      Reply to Comment
    4. amazona

      Indeed, scaremongering, wastefulness, paralysis of government should be the election counter-campaign. And even if the pundists know for sure that Bibi will win, let’s start talking about how he is actually going to lose, how the public is going to get wise, how some twist is going to happen that will throw the cards out of kilter. In short, let’s beat Bibi at his game of psychological warfare. It may not work, but it’s better than the fatalism that prevails in our daily press.

      Reply to Comment