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Netanyahu, Obama, Iran and the Cry Wolf Syndrome

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PM Netanyahu proved again in his U.N speech that he is a master of oratory and the creation of live drama. Nothing new for a man who came to the CNN studio in Jerusalem, in the first day of operation Desert Storm, with a gas mask, a picture which became one of the most memorable sights of that particular war. Another question altogether is, whether the oratory thunderstorm aas the ability to shake the audience, in that case, President Barack Obama, who already referred to Netanyahu's oratory in a very non-diplomatic way, as "background noise," which he is committed not to be influenced by.

Also, whether it has the desired effect on American public opinion a few weeks ahead of the presidential elections, as well as Israel's own electorate and, of course, the Ayatollahs' in Tehran, whose messenger, President Ahmadinejad, just delivered one of his moronic speeches in the same arena as Netanyahu, remains to be seen.

The fact is that even after such a great and important speech, the basic questions regarding Netanyahu's intentions -- as well as the state of Israeli-American discussion/debate about the best way to stop the Iranians -- still persist; this may indicate that the speech did not achieve its goal, which was to create a worldwide coalition, led by the U.S., designed to stop the possible Iranian race towards the bomb at a timetable conducive to what seemed to be Israel's until the very speech.

Netanyahu basically said that the timetable to stop the Iranian bomb is going beyond 2012, all the way to the spring, perhaps summer 2013. In that case, the inevitable question is, why was a need for the great drama, some will say the melodrama, of the last few months, when Netanyahu and Barak made it seem as if an Israeli strike against Iran was behind the door? Surely, both Israeli leaders happen to remember that in weeks time, America is electing its new, apparently old president, at least if we are to believe the polls. No wonder that there are some people in the Obama administration who feel vindicated today about the "background noise" comment and the suspicious connection between the Israeli campaign and the impending elections. If the point of no return is six to nine months from now, it is a problem to explain why the bells rung with so much volume in recent weeks. Netanyahu will be required to explain that, to both Republicans as well as Democrats in the U.S., including Israel's many supporters in the two parties, and will find it almost impossible to do it with the president, surely after his likely reelection. Tomorrow the two leaders are supposed to have a telephone conversation, which may be polite, but one is left to wonder what will be the level of civility in such conversations after November 6th if Mr. Obama comes out victorious.

Netanyahu will have no less difficult a task to explain the revised timetable to the Israeli public, which in recent months was bombarded with so many signals indicating an imminent strike against Iran, and may think now, in the aftermath of the speech, that signals were, but not the real thing. There is enough cynicism in Israel as it is, and it is bound to increase as a result of this speech.

In Tehran, the official propaganda machine of the regime will clearly state, that "we told you so, Israel is just a paper tiger," but, at least in this case, I suggest, that the Iranians, ever suspicious and so hateful towards Israel, may say one thing in public and still feel or fear something else altogether behind closed doors.

That said, the speech, while signaling a shift of emphasis on the part of Israel, surely with regard to the time factor, does not change three fundamental facts; first, Iran is racing towards the point in time where it could possess the bomb. Second, bearing in mind Ahmadinejad's speech, Israel has the right, in fact, it is obliged to feel threatened by the rhetoric coupled with the rapidly developing capabilities of the Iranians. This is exactly what an existential threat is all about. Third, this threat should be terminated in the near future, though not immediately.

These basic points were in place before Netanyahu's speech, and they continue to be on center stage after the speech. It is to be hoped, particularly by all those who do not want the Ayatollahs to possess the bomb, that from now on, the Israelis and the Americans will find better, more effective and reliable channels of communication. Benjamin Netanyahu surely will not like to be looked upon as the leader who cried wolf so many times.