"If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
The incredible spectacle of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's speech to Congress -- in which he appeared as much as the leader of the political opposition to the Obama administration as the head of government of an allied nation -- has come and gone but will reverberate for a long time. Still, some early returns, including sharp criticism from the former head of Israel's legendary secret intelligence service, are now in on the short-term impact of Netanyahu's extraordinary alarmism about Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu delivered a remarkable address to the U.S. Congress, seen here in its entirety.
** Netanyahu's address is not impacting US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
** It is impacting the March 17th elections in Israel, in which Netanyahu needed a boost, though not decisively as yet. And the intervention of the former Mossad chief happened after post-speech polling.
** It is bucking up Congressional opposition to rapprochement with Iran.
Of necessity, the US-Iran negotiation has always run on a separate track. In fact, it ran in secret at first to avoid jostling from pro-Netanyahu elements in America. The stance of Netanyahu and his allies in the most right-wing government in Israel's history and in the neoconservative tendency in American politics has always been antithetical to any realistic negotiations. Because Netanyahu insists that Iran is run by religious mad men.
The post-address polling in Israel shows some improvement in Netanyahu's decidedly slumped popularity at home. For the first time in a while, less than a majority of Israeli voters want him gone from the prime ministership. But support for his party, running second in the polls in Israel's crazy-quilt multi-party parliamentary democracy, is not up appreciably.
The real success of the speech for Netanyahu in the short term is in casting him as a figure on the world stage, focused on primal fear of Iran with hordes of American congress members leaping repeatedly to their feet to applaud his frequently rebuttable comments. Over time, this may draw back some conservative voters alienated as much by Netanyahu's reputedly high-handed manner as his politics.
The clearest impact of Netanyahu's performance is on US politics. He has provided a dramatic, pithy well-spring of opposition to President Barack Obama. Bucking up the Republicans in Congress in this way makes it all the more difficult for Obama to gain approval for any accord with Iran.
Netanyahu denied this upon his return to Jerusalem, saying that he had presented not a message of negation of Obama's diplomacy but a model for a better deal. Here's a transcript of his speech.
"I presented a practical alternative, which would impose tougher restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, extending Iran's breakout time by years," he said.
But that's simply non-serious.
What he actually called for is maintaining a tough sanctions regime on Iran until it changes its foreign policy stance and embraces Israel. That's not a negotiation, that's a dictation of terms. That's something you do after you win a war. It's a total non-starter, and Netanyahu, who went to MIT, isn't dumb enough to think otherwise.
Former Mossad director Meir Dagan has just bluntly described Netanyahu's speech as "bullshit."
General Dagan, who served for nine years as head of Israel's legendary intelligence service (he was originally appointed by conservative Prime Minister Ariel Sharon), says he believes that the Iranian regime is "rational." He evidently does not buy into the theory expounded by Netanyahu associates that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the other leaders of the Islamic Republic are bent on establishing a caliphate that can only occur when the "hidden imam" is revealed. Revealed how? By the Armageddon of a global war.
Of course, there already is a nuclear power in the Middle East, and that is Israel. Despite, not incidentally, the efforts of President John F. Kennedy, who, as part of his non-proliferation strategy, urged Israeli leaders not to pursue nuclear weapons. They professed their agreement, but deceived the US for several years after Kennedy's assassination.
Would not Israel, with its reported hundreds of nuclear weapons, deter a rising Iran from attacking? Netanyahu himself has said that the Tehran regime is trying to restore the ancient Persian empire. They can't do that if they're dead.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu always justifies his stance by saying that an Iranian bomb constitutes an "existential threat" to Israel.
Is he right?
Well, he was certainly wrong, as an ally of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, in lobbying Congress to approve the invasion of Iraq. That disaster empowered Iran in the Middle East, and Iraq itself, which has a pro-Iranian government as a result of our war there. Which makes the Israeli PM' citing of Iran's rising sway over several governments in the region all the more delicious for its ironic genesis in Netanyahu's own policy.
And Netanyahu has been wrong in claiming for more than 20 years that Iran was just about to get the Bomb.
And one would have to assume the insanity of Iranian leaders to believe that mutually assured destruction would not protect Israel from nuclear devastation at the hands of Iran.
But he is right, at least in the most generic sense, that Israel's existence is threatened. From a military standpoint, Israel's existence is always under threat. From a defensive standpoint, Israel is a bird's nest in a rain spout, surrounded by Arabs and Muslims who deeply resent its alliance presence in their midst.
The place is tiny, with a population less than that of Los Angeles County. It lacks any real strategic depth. At its narrowest, the country is no farther across than a drive from downtown Los Angeles to the beach.
Even though Israel has turned itself into a micro-superpower, a Sparta of the Middle East with Athenian trappings, there is precious little margin for error. Just as Israelis, giddy with their military successes against the Arabs in 1948's War of Independence, the Suez War of 1956, and the stunning triumph of the Six-Day War in 1967, learned to their chagrin over Yom Kippur in 1973. Caught off guard, despite ample signs of impending attack, the Israelis battled back valiantly but would have lost but for the intervention of the US in the form of a massive military resupply of the depleted Israeli forces.
Since then, diplomacy has waxed (the Camp David Accords brought peace with Egypt) and waned (the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli military commander, by a right-winger shot down the Palestinian peace process).
Now diplomacy, under Netanyahu, is in thoroughgoing eclipse, any prospect for a Palestinian accord derailed by the constant settlements by Jewish fundamentalists in disputed areas.
Israel under Netanyahu is in an endless run of 24. The worst-case scenario is always paramount, time is always running out, making for a perpetual state of emergency.
After the Yom Kippur War reminded that no rational person would have selected the what is now Israel as a homeland were it not for the incredible confluence of the genocidal Holocaust, centuries of shocking persecution of Jews in supposedly civilized Europe, and the emotional pull of a long-ago ancient Holy Land, the once soaring morale of the Jewish State had nearly evaporated in desert gloom.
Then Netanyahu's big brother, who gave up his philosophy studies at Harvard to serve in the elite Sayeret Matkal special forces, led what was internally dubbed "Operation Thunderball," after the James Bond mega-hit. The stunning raid on Entebbe on July 4, 1976, launched from more than 2000 miles away, liberated over 100 Jewish hostages from an Air France hijacking. Israel had again pulled off a military feat for the ages, with only one casualty: 30-year old Lieutenant Colonel Yoni Netanyahu.
Only the U.S. Navy SEAL takedown of Osama bin Laden rivals the raid on Entebbe in the annals of special operations.
So the prime minister, who also served in Sayeret Matkal, has long had some big boots to fill.
Is he living up to his big brother's legendary heroism?
Or is he simply an hysteric out to manipulate America into not only endless war in the Middle East, but war that could become global in scope?
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