Netanyahu, Obama, Churchill and Iran

02/23/2015 11:12 am ET | Updated Apr 24, 2015

The great Winston Spencer Churchill was the first world figure to be declared an honorary citizen of the US by an act of Congress in 1963. Since then seven more were bestowed with this honor, six posthumously. President Barack Obama was not much impressed with the Congress Act, and by his instruction, the honored bust of the Great Briton was removed from the Oval Office.

Benjamin Netanyahu is, on record, a great admirer of Churchill. He said it so many times, and on the face of it, this is to be expected from an Israeli leader, particularly one from the Nationalist wing of Israeli politics. The vision of "blood, toil, tears and sweat," seems so much in place when put in the context of Israel's struggle for survival and recognition.

Well, on second thought, it is somewhat strange for a nationalist Israeli leader to compare himself to Churchill. It was the latter who in his capacity as Secretary of the Colonies tore Eastern Palestine from the territory which was to be assigned to the Jewish people, and so the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan was created, much to the chagrin of the ideological mentors of Netanyahu. Later, in the Second World War, it was PM Churchill who at an early stage of the war was aware of systematic Nazi extermination of the Jews, through the information supplied by "ultra," but did nothing about that. So it was also in 1944, when both Churchill and FDR refused to bomb Auschwitz and the railroad leading there. This is where the connection between then and now, surely the one concerning Churchill is becoming relevant, obviously so when we remember Netanyahu rhetoric.

PM Netanyahu said on many occasions that the Iranian nuclear program is an existential threat to Israel. He is absolutely right about that. Nuclear arms in the hands of those who refer to Israel as vermin, and publicly calling for the elimination of the state, which is a call for a genocide, should be prevented from possessing the bomb, also from being allowed to develop it at will. The question is how to stop them, and when and who should do it? Netanyahu should be credited for the fact that the issue became so focal in current world affairs. He did not just talk about that, but it is becoming increasingly clear that in the last 2-3 years he lost his way. His initial strategy about Iran seems to have come to a deadlock.

In my opinion, it started with the infamous UN graphic display of how close Iran was to the point of no return. By his own account, we are way past this point, and unless WE ALL do not know, and that includes Israel, Iran IS NOT behind this point. If it is, then Netanyahu missed the time for stopping it. Apparently, he himself does not think so, as he claims now, that his speech is intended to be the dramatic call that will mobilize the US, and with her other nations, to not sign an agreement with Iran which will fail to prevent the rogue state from getting the bomb, God forbid.

Here is another weakness in Netanyahu's policy. If he thinks that it is the US that has to stop Iran, and this is Israel's no. 1 issue, then he had to conduct his relationships with the US, especially with the White House, totally differently. For example, to stop the ritualistic nonsensical announcements about new construction projects in the West Bank, projects which will not materialize in years, but the damage they cause is immediate. Let alone, he should have been very careful in his dealings with the Republican Congress, trying as a matter of utmost Israeli interest to maintain bipartisan support for Israel, particularly in the case of Iran. It may be that even a much more conciliatory and cooperative Netanyahu would prove insufficient to bring about a complete agreement between him and President Obama on Iran, but surely the acrimony of these days could have been averted. Here is where we come again to Churchill. Perhaps two leaders who have such diametrically different opinion of Churchill and his international relations legacy, as PM Netanyahu and President Obama could not create the kind of relations with Israel, which existed in the days of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But if that is the case, Netanyahu had ample opportunities in the past five years to realize that, and to develop an Israeli response to the Iranian threat, which is not dependent on the US and President Obama. He did not do it until now, and it may be exactly the time to do it.

First, he should cancel the speech, even though so much damage was already created.
Second, if he still wants to deliver the speech, he should go beyond a Churchillian rhetoric and specifically expose the most updated intelligence in his possession, indicating that what Israel KNOWS for sure, not what Israel SUSPECTS, is contrary to what the Obama Administration says and knows. I have a feeling that he does not possess such data, because if he did, he must have shared it with the Americans, and there is no sign that such an exchange has taken place. It must have been an Israeli interest to let it be known to the outside world. If that is the case, Netanyahu takes the risk that rather than giving a Churchillian speech, his appearance in Congress would be ridiculed, much the same as the UN speech, and the Wolf syndrome will become the universal attitude towards Israel's warnings about Iran.

So, we come to the third element of what should be now Netanyahu's policy; say as little as possible, not as much, keep them all guessing, keep your freedom of action. Going to Congress might very well achieve the opposite.