Like Netanyahu or Hate Him, His Fight Against Obama Is Impressive

In the palpably unequal fight between the U.S. president and Israel’s premier, even Netanyahu’s foes must salute his bravura performance.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

For the past few weeks, and probably for the next few as well, people around the world are witnessing a bout between two seemingly unequal contestants: the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel. In one corner, Barack Obama, the leader of the world’s superpower; in the other, Benjamin Netanyahu, the premier of a small country in the Middle East. An unequal contest at first sight, with the odds heavily stacked against the latter. And yet, at this stage the outcome remains in doubt.

The stakes are high. For Netanyahu, it is a contest in which Israel’s security, maybe its very existence, is at stake. For Obama, his prestige, judgment and legacy hang in the balance.

According to Obama, the argument between Israel and the United States – on whether the nuclear agreement with Iran is a good or bad deal – is not just a disagreement between the two countries. Rather, he claims that every nation, “with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support.” In other words, Netanyahu is picking a fight with the whole world. Of course, Obama knows this is hyperbole. The majority of the elected representatives of the U.S. people in the House of Representatives and the Senate oppose the Iran deal. As for the Russians, Chinese, British, French and Germans who are signatories to the Iran agreement, they each have their own good reasons for favoring the deal. The Russians and Chinese were never really concerned about a nuclear Iran and are seeking the removal of sanctions against it for the opportunities this will offer. For the Europeans, it is business. They are already beating their way to Iran’s door looking for commercial deals. None of them perceive a nuclear Iran as an imminent threat to them. Business is far more important.

For countries in the Middle East, it is a different story. This is why the Saudis and Gulf states are so concerned and bristle at the agreement. A strengthened Iran, even before it pulls a nuclear bomb out of the closet, is an imminent danger to them. And Israel, within missile range of Tehran and threatened by Iran’s leaders with destruction, cannot afford to sit idly by and watch Iran receiving billions – much of it to be spent on funding terrorist activity directed against Israel – while their nuclear project keeps ticking away.

Obama acknowledges that Israel’s security is at risk. “In such a dangerous neighborhood, Israel has to be vigilant,” he says. But the alternative to this agreement is war, he continues, disingenuously, and Israel will be the first to be hit in that instance. In other words, he claims to know better than the Israeli people’s elected leaders what is best for Israel in the final analysis.

Although there are some exceptions here and there, including from former senior officials in the defense establishment, there is a very wide consensus in Israel that the agreement reached with Iran is bad and portends dangers for Israel. The consensus covers the entire coalition and most of the opposition. The differences that are being voiced deal with the way Netanyahu is contending with this oncoming danger. Some insist his strident opposition is damaging the fabric of Israel’s relations with the United States, and that he should try to make the best of a bad deal and seek to obtain some compensation from the Americans. But how do you do that while the decision in the United States still hangs in the balance? Or else that he should voice his opposition without getting involved in American domestic politics. That would be a hard trick to do, considering that the agreement with Iran has become a major political issue in the United States.

But all Israelis are surely in awe watching Netanyahu’s virtuoso performance in explaining Israel’s position on this issue. He has become a household name in the United States, and in much of the world. He is determined and unflinching. He is sought by all the media. And he is having an impact. How does he muster the courage to enter such an unequal contest? Who on the Israeli political scene would have been able to equal him? Whether you agree or disagree with him, whether you love him or loathe him, all Israelis watching his performance in this crisis should be saying: Bravo Bibi, chapeau!

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