THE BLOG

From Sarkozy to the IAEA -- How Netanyahu Gets Stronger

According to a Jewish tradition, righteous people have their work done for them by others. Well, Benjamin Netanyahu is not a righteous person, as there are only 36 such tzadikim [righteous in Hebrews] on the list, but recent events surely seem to do him a great service.

Let's start with Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama and the open microphones in Cannes. For many months there was a buzz in the press, that world leaders -- including some who are pro-Israel -- do not admire, to put it mildly, P.M. Netanyahu's performance, particularly his alleged lack of reliability. Now the genie is out of the bottle, and we know for sure what Sarkozy thinks of Netanyahu -- a liar he called him -- and the limits of President Obama readiness to defend the character of one of the US strongest allies.

Strange are the ways of politics, none more so Israeli and Jewish politics, as this Sarkozy comment -- rather than damaging Netanyahu -- is helping him a lot and galvanizing support for him. No need for too much creative imagination to visualize Netanyahu speaking to his closest circle, telling them "you see, I told you so", code words understood by many Israelis and Jews to indicate that opposition to Israel and its policies reflect a deep-seated bias, double standards and hypocrisy. Clearly, a sense strongly prevalent in Israel and among its supporters worldwide, as it pits "us" against "them", a sentiment well-known to Israel watchers, and one regularly used by right-wing nationalists, who are Netanyahu's political base.

Initial criticisms by American and French Jewish organizations do show that regardless of what some people may say about Netanyahu behind close doors, a public reference for him as "a liar", is offensive and instigates negative reactions. The same sentiment is much on display in Israel, and it comes in the aftermath of the Shalit deal that enhanced Netanyahu's position, judging by public opinion polls.

And then comes the recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which reads like a blank confirmation of the Israeli narrative about the Iranian nuclear program and its obvious military focus. For years, successive Israeli governments have done their best, sometimes clumsily, to convince world public opinion and leaders that the Iranian nuclear program is military in nature, regardless of all the denials by the Islamic Republic. This was and may still be a tough sale, as it was so easy to dismiss Israel's claims as being "hysterical" and "war-mongering". Even the Bush administration, definitely a pro-Israel one, issued a report some years ago, based on the US national intelligence assessment, which argued that the Iranian program was not for military purposes.

At the time many eyebrows were raised, and not only in Israel, regarding this report, but the damage was done, and the Israeli effort to convince the world suffered a major setback. Now there is a completely new ballgame. For years critics of Israel argued that so long as the IAEA reports do not substantiate Israel's charges, the campaign against Iran has no real merits; but now with this report the question of reliability is firmly placed in the doorstep of all these critics: Is the IAEA to be believed only when it refutes Israeli charges, or also when it seems to be in sync with them?

This is not a question for Netanyahu to answer. He made his position clear from day one of his tenure as P.M. and he proved right. Others have to answer this question, for example Nicolas Sarkozy. He owes Netanyahu an apology, which probably will not come, but he sure has to make a decision and quickly, what can France do more than what it did until now to terminate the dangerous Iranian program?

The same applies to the Obama administration which needs to make its own quick decisions with regards to Iran. All those who argue against the military option are the ones who have to come up now with a credible alternative to this option, one which has not been tried as yet, and it must come quickly and include an element of dealing with the Iranian energy industry.

Netanyahu, backed by growing public support in Israel, is waiting to see how Israel's allies will react. He is not lurking in the wings, he is pretty much in the forefront of the issue. This is so because the burden of the historic decision of what to do falls on him. Any action on his part will require a large measure of public support among his compatriots. He seems to have it now, and for the good of Israel he is expected to do his best not to lose it, as well as to win more international support. The clock is ticking.