THE BLOG

Netanyahu attacks Iran rather than face up to the Palestinian issue

It is a well-known tactic. Avoid difficult issues and concentrate on the easier ones.

This seems to have been the tactic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in avoiding the Palestinian-Israeli issue while focusing almost entirely on Iran and its newly elected president.

Analyzing Netanyahu's speech at the UN General Assembly, this obsession with Iran and Hassan Rouhani becomes clear. In his 3,124- word speech Netanyahu mentioned the word Iran and Iranian 70 times, while only mentioning the word Jew and Jewish a mere 15 times.

On the other hand, Netanyahu used the word Rouhani 25 times, while the word Israel was used only 24 times. The word security appeared in Netanyahu's speech eight times, while reference to peace was made only four times.

Israel's prime minister outdid even his hawkish anti-Iran speech of last year, when his red line drawn on a cartoon picture of a bomb gave cartoonists and satirists a lot to work with.

While the US and the rest of the world are trying to give the newly elected Iranian president the benefit of the doubt, Israel's leader appears to ratchet up his rhetoric, even more than when the hawkish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president of Iran.

A comparative word count analysis makes this point very clear. In 2012, Netanyahu used the word Iran or Iranian 52 times, compared to the 68 times this year, and the word peace 11 times, compared to only four last year.

The problem, then, is one of credibility. Netanyahu's argument is that there is no substantial difference between the two Iranian leaders. One is a wolf in wolf clothing, a reference to Ahmadinejad, and the other, Rouhani, a wolf in sheep's clothing.

What Israel's official seems to forget is that it is his credibility, more than Rouhani's, which will be questioned. Crying wolf too often boomerangs on the caller.

World opinion is rather sceptical of the flimsy evidence being thrown around at the UN. In the 10 years since America's misguided war on Iraq, one of the most painful images in people's memory is that of respected US Secretary of State Colin Powell attempting to illustrate the claim -- now proven wrong -- that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Netanyahu's efforts will require a smoking gun to counter Iranian claims that its nuclear power will be for civilian use, and not military, as the Israelis claim.

While Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, Israel, which is known to possess an arsenal of nuclear warheads and which refuses, unlike Iran, to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is hardly the party that can complain.

Even if the Israeli leader convinces a few of his point that Iran is in fact trying to develop a nuclear bomb, he will have a harder time to prove that this bomb presents a threat to the state of Israel.

Arab and international demands that the entire Middle East be a region free of weapons of mass destruction have actually moved a major step forward recently, when the Syrians agreed to rid themselves of all their chemical weapons.

Israel's previous argument was that Iran is a rogue country and that its main aim is to destroy Israel. This argument was made easier by the often boisterous rhetoric of its previous leaders.

Now Israel and its apologists were deprived of this weapon, which makes them insist on the wolf in sheep's clothing simile even though the US and other Western leaders are now talking to the Iranians.

Security strategists have regularly argued that Israel cannot effectively attack Iran on its own. An active US role is a requirement for any possible military adventure against Iran. This scenario, however, has receded after the White House showed clear hesitation in intervening militarily in Syria.

So if Netanyahu's credibility is on the line, and if the US and other Western allies are willing to give Rouhani's peaceful claims a chance to get proven, what is the purpose of the continued Israeli attacks against Iran?

A look at Netanyahu's record, ever since he was the Israeli ambassador to the UN, shows a tendency to exaggerate regional issues to keep world opinion away from the one issue that Israel is refusing to budge on, the question of Palestine.

Ironically, one of the key arguments deployed in Israel is that Iran plans to waste time in negotiations while developing its nuclear military capability. Few in Israel were willing to look in the mirror and see how, since the Madrid conference and the Oslo Accords, Israel has used this exact time-wasting tactic in order to expand illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands while offering token, dead-end negotiations.

Before leaving for the UN, Netanyahu promised to speak the truth at this forum. What we saw was yet another speech that deviates from Israel's occupation and colonial policies and focuses on what is quickly becoming a non-argument in world circles.

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