Feature

Netanyahu: Trying to influence the U.S. election?

The Israeli prime minister's recent statements seem designed to sway public opinion.

Iran’s nuclear facilities may well be next, said Andrew Sullivan in TheDailyBeast.com, but Benjamin Netanyahu’s first goal is clearly to “blow up the U.S. election.” The Israeli prime minister recently chastised the White House for not setting a firm “red line” for Iran’s nuclear program that would result in a war if crossed. This week Netanyahu doubled down, with two inflammatory appearances on U.S. Sunday talk shows. Using a clumsy football analogy clearly tailored to a U.S. audience, Netanyahu warned that Iran was already in “the last 20 yards” in its drive for a nuclear touchdown, and might be just six months from making a bomb. That bomb, he said pointedly, might wind up in the hands of Iran’s terrorist surrogates, and “the kind of fanaticism you see storming your embassies would have a nuclear weapon.” Netanyahu’s friend, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has sought to capitalize on the rift, charging that Obama was snubbing the Israeli prime minister and throwing Israel “under the bus.” Never before has an American politician sided with a foreign leader in a conflict with our government, said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.A war with Iran would have grave, unpredictable consequences, and plunge our economy back into recession. Obama is right to resist, and he “should indeed set a red line—warning Netanyahu to stop interfering in American elections.”

Netanyahu’s behavior “looks a lot like meddling,” said Jeffrey Goldberg in TheAtlantic.com, but I don’t think his goal is to “tip the election to Mitt Romney.” A veteran of countless campaigns himself, the Israeli leader can read polls as well as anyone, and has resigned himself to the idea that Obama will very likely win a second term. So “why risk alienating” him? He genuinely fears that Obama “won’t actually stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” because he’ll decide that the costs of doing so are too great. 

So why shouldn’t Netanyahu try to sway American public opinion? said Jay Nordlinger in NationalReview.com. His nation is “facing an existential threat” from Iran, whose leaders have not only vowed to wipe Israel off the map, but are rapidly closing in on the technology that would make another Holocaust possible. Worse, this is “a threat the wider world does not seem all that keen to confront.” As Israelis, we’re used to this, said Danny Danon, deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, in the Los Angeles Times. Just prior to the Six Day War, in 1967, Egypt massed troops in the Sinai Peninsula, and signed military cooperation pacts with Syria and Jordan, signaling an imminent invasion. In 1981, the madman Saddam Hussein began building the Osirak nuclear reactor, to make fuel for a future weapon. Both times, the international community urged us “to take a wait-and-see approach.” Netanyahu, a keen student of our history, knows that when it comes to Israel’s “very survival,” we can’t wait for later. 

It still isn’t right, or smart, for him to publicly scold a U.S. president, said David Ignatius in WashingtonPost.com. Obama has already stated, unequivocally, that his policy is “to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” and has even instructed his generals to prepare a detailed plan of attack if Iran takes clear steps toward weaponization. But the decision to send U.S. bombers to Iran is Obama’s alone, and “Netanyahu should understand that no country can allow another to impose the conditions under which it will go to war.” It’s just as outrageous, said Eric Lewis in NYTimes.com, that Netanyahu would threaten to strike Iran himself without America’s approval. “To be sure, Israel is a special ally,” but she owes her security to arms, military aid, and political support provided by the U.S. Israel has no more right to attack Iran, and cause untold damage to regional stability and the U.S. economy, than South Korea has to unilaterally attack the mad, nuclear-armed regime in North Korea. 

Netanyahu has every right to defend Israel—and to doubt Obama’s “commitment to stopping Iran,” said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. Sanctions have done nothing, and indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran’s nuclear program “is accelerating.” Of course it is. Obama refuses to set any line beyond which Iran must not go, leading every sensible person—including the mullahs in Tehran—to conclude that he’ll “allow Iran to go nuclear.” No wonder Netanyahu now seems panicky. “Not since its birth six decades ago has Israel been so cast adrift by its closest ally.” 

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