Bibi Netanyahu has announced new national elections for September, which he hopes will further solidify what I call the permanent Israeli far-right majority. A majority that portends a further erosion–or perhaps, final disintegration–of what little is left of democracy, civil liberties and everything else embodied in a western liberal state. As if this wasn’t bad enough, there is another weighty matter that could be impacted by a Netanyahu victory: an attack on Iran.
Most observers believe that when Bibi left Washington after his last visit, Obama secured a commitment that Israel would not attack Iran before the U.S. presidential election in November. With the Israeli prime minister likely to win a new term in September, this would set up a perfectly timed opportunity for Netanyahu to launch an attack post-November.
But there is an alternate prospect. In 1981, Menachem Begin attacked the Iraqi Osirak reactor a few weeks before an Israeli election. It was a gutsy move since the Israeli Opposition, most of the world, and especially the U.S. opposed such an attack. If it had gone wrong, Begin might have lost the election. As it was, even with a successful (in the short-term) attack, the election was extremely close and he barely squeaked by. So there is an Israeli political precedent for a prime minister to bet the house during election season with a military attack against an Arab enemy. Besides, Bibi’s predecessor resorted to wars twice during his term believing they would give him a political boost (it’s doubtful they helped much since Israelis eventually came to believe that both were mismanaged).
If Netanyahu did attack in the summer, before the election, he would be in far different circumstances than Begin was. The current Israeli leader has a stable coalition government likely to win the next election. An attack on Iran, though likely to be denounced by the world, would likely play well, at least initially, to the Israeli electorate. From Bibi’s point of view, attacking Iran could transform the election from a mere victory into a historic landslide that would give him not just a mandate, but a historic one that would translate into many more years of right-wing dominance of Israeli political life. Polls taken now show Likud picking up three seats, and Kadima, the sole centrist party under its new leader, Shaul Mofaz, collapsing almost into political oblivion. Even if it joined a coalition with the rebounding Labor Party, it could not muster enough seats to outnumber a far-right coalition.
Though many Israelis deride Netanyahu as being a waffler, deeply cautious, a political turtle, if you will–the man clearly has a Napoleonic-Churchillian complex and grandiose visions of his place in history. This is the sort of plan that would appeal to his over-sized ego. And a resounding victory would provide him the mandate to go to war.
Ari Shavit, writing in Haaretz, sees things a bit differently. He believes Netanyahu will davka attack Iran just after the September elections, but before the November U.S. elections. The benefit to the prime minister, at least as Shavit sees it, is that Obama’s hands will be tied as he will not want to upset the election apple cart in order to take Israel to the woodshed. While I’ve never lost out by setting a very low bar for Obama’s political fortitude, even this might be too much hubris for the Israeli prime minister to assume. It just might be possible for Obama to show some spine if Bibi deliberately tries to exploit a political vacuum before the November election.
Returning to the upcoming Israeli elections, another reason Bibi set them for September, I believe, is a longstanding mistrust of Pres. Obama. He knows the U.S. leader is likely to be re-elected in November. Thus, he wants to present Obama with a fait accompli after the latter’s election. He wants to come at Obama from a position of maximum strength, having just won a resounding election victory in September. This will help insulate Bibi from any of the onerous demands Obama might seek to make of him afterward and guarantee that the president’s next term will offer little in the way of compromise from Israel.
For those who read Hebrew, I relied on several articles in writing this post: Ben Caspit, Ari Shavit and Nahum Barnea, among others.
Shraga Elam says
Richard, I can’t understand why you are so obsessed with helping the Israeli Hasbara in inflating the non-existing military option against Iran, instead of helping to further initiatives like mine to neutralize the negative effects of the mutual war drumming (see e.g.: http://shraga-elam.blogspot.ca/2012/05/is-israel-iran-rapprochement-possible.html ).
There isn’t much logic behind the argument that Netanyu needs the elections in order to raise his chances of being reelected, or a new government to enable the attack.
So what if some Israeli “experts” write some rubbish like this?
Considering the fact that an Iranian retaliation is very likely to kill ten thousands if not hundred thousands of Israelis, isolate Israeli internationally etc. , an Israeli air force attack will reduce Nethanyu chances to be reelected and he knows very well that such scenario has a high probability.
Netanyahu isn’t a fool and has displayed more caution than his predecessor Olmert, who had launched at least two criminal military adventures like the 2nd. Lebanon War and operation Cast Lead and was obviously even ready to apologize to Turkey. Netanyahu kept also rather a low profile about the so called “Arab Spring”
I’m of course no supporter of Nethanyau, but there is no need to exaggerate and help him to profit from the war drumming. The main aim of these hollow threats is to distract from the stalemate in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, to get more US and German military aid etc.)
The statements made by former Israeli secret services chiefs like Dagan or Diskin claiming that Netanyahu and Barak are crazy and therefore will launch an attack against Iran aren’t supported by facts and are obviously part of the Israeli propaganda machinery signaling to the world and Iran that they should appease Israel. Part of raising the Israeli deterrence is by signaling: “watch out, we are crazy (ba’al habait hishtage’a) so don’t fool with us.”
Richard Silverstein says
I think most people believe the chances of war against Iran are very real. You appear to associate an element of pragmatism with Bibi that I don’t find. We’ll see who’s right.
Shraga Elam says
Of course Netanyahu is more pragmatic than many, including yourself consider him, otherwise he would have attacked Iran long time ago.
He is cashing on not attacking like you can see e.g. here:
This is the the Israeli game on Iran: getting benefits for not attacking. Just like Israel was compensated for not reacting to Iraqi attacks in 1991.
If there was a real military option Israel would have done it long ago. This is no speculattion. This is a fact. In many issues one can define the Israeli military policy:
When you have to shoot…Shoot! Don’t talk
(with Hebrew subtitles).
Shraga Elam says
There is no logical connection between Netanyahu’s decision to go for election and a military attack against Iran. N. doesn’t need the election to attack Iran and in order to raise his chances in the election he’ll need some military operation with no too many risks and even then it is dangerous.
Peres lost the elections against Netanyahu in 1996 although he was very secure in his position as a PM. But he made a big mistake and attacked Lebanon. Becuase of the massacre at Kufr Kana he lost a lot of support.
I side with the presumption he will have his election securing his base, believing that will strengthen him domestically and in the US for the fight he probably knows is coming with Obama after November.
I doubt Bibi will attack Iran without the blessings and full support of the US, and don’t believe Obama and his principles are secretly conspiring with Netanyahu to attack Iran. They have too strongly and publicly opposed it only to be found meekly and weakly supporting an Israeli fait accompli, which would make Obama look like a fool losing the election for sure, or damaging to a 2nd term.
Obama has two examples to learn from. Carter and Bush 41 totally over estimated their party and establishment support in their affairs with Israel, and under estimated the unforgiving, visceral hatred of zealous, messianic Zionism. They took their shot and learned that lesson too late to correct it, paying the price in a tough election year.
Taking a shot against Israel in a first term is gutsy, but foolhardy as it proved. But the silver lining is he did it early, had the time to rectify the political fallout within his ranks and immunize himself from maniacal Zionist propaganda. For the most part Zealous Zionists are Republicans and he wouldn’t get their vote anyway. More importantly he knows who his enemies, friends and traitors are in a fight with Likud/Israel and its front groups in the US.
Should Israel remain insanely intransigent and committed to a Greater Israel a parting of the ways between Israel and the US isn’t a fantasy, its inevitable. It only happens sooner with a 2nd term Obama or later with some other president, and who knows, maybe even Romney.
I don’t believe Richard is “obsessed with helping the Israeli Hasbara in inflating the non-existing military option against Iran.” He believes its a distinct possibility and has none or very little confidence in Obama to prevent it.
I otoh have a different view. Take that 2nd aircraft carrier deployed to the Persian Gulf. Its universally believed this deployment is due to rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, but it may also be a warning to Israel that the US is prepared to act overtly & decisively against any unprovoked, unilateral, Israeli attack, should Bibi prove to be the “Napoleonic-Churchillian complex and grandiose visions of his place in history” that Richard is convinced the goof believes himself to be.
Maybe Obama does too and is strengthening his hand by expanding his just in case options.
I don’t know how Bibi, can be contemplating striking Iran, when Israels military elites say it’s a lost cause. Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz is on the record for saying he’s against it, not least because it’s unwinnable.
The Israeli extreme right wing propogate two myths that Israelis have swallowed. First that the Palestinians don’t want peace, and two that the state is under constant threat of annihalation.
This could be the catalyst that triggers another chain of events. If Israel continues down the talibanisation route.
Do we have any Israeli’s here who can comment on the below.
1. How likely is the scenario Alan Hart describes below?
2. How likely is the scenario with Obama in power? Would he support an ‘Israeli military spring’ as enthusiastically as he supported the Arab Spring?
Time for a military coup in Israel?
In my opinion it is most unlikely that there will ever be an Israeli politician in government, or aspiring to be in government, who will tell the truth.
In my opinion there is only one power on earth which could tell it – Israel’s military in association with the state’s various security agencies.
And that in summary and principle is why I believe that what Israel needs most of all is a military coup, to put in place for a limited period, not more than one year at the most, a military administration which would be committed to telling Israeli Jews the truth of history as it relates to the making and sustaining of the conflict, and what their real options are. Essentially there are two. Peace on terms acceptable to the vast majority of Palestinians or catastrophe for all.
You think Israeli Jews don’t know the truth? I think the electorate knows the truth, that Israel is intransigent and has no intention of making any peace and wants only to exploit war for purposes of aggrandizement of property, rights and power. I think they know all this and more.
Its universally believed this deployment is due to rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, but it may also be a warning to Israel that the US is prepared to act overtly & decisively against any unprovoked, unilateral, Israeli attack,
If things continue the way they are, the US will eventually end up doing just that even is Israel doesn’t attack Iran, which I DON’T believe will happen. A politician cannot go against what his military advisors advise. If he does he will face a coup.
Bob Mann says
What do you think of Yesh Atid? Can they make any noise in the election?
All matters regarding Iran are on “hold” until the all-important negotiations later this month.
Bob Mann says
In surprise move, Netanyahu, Mofaz agree to form unity government, cancel early elections
What do you make of that?
So Bibi fears facing the electorate!
Forming a coalition government that includes Kadima accomplishes the same thing, strengthening his hand domestically for the fight he knows is coming with Obama post November, without running the risks of an election.
Shraga Elam says
It is Mofaz who is afraid and therefore gave Netanyahu a big present. Netanyau is the big winner.
The whole stroy was a super design basis accident (DBA) for most of the “experts”.
BTW Hanan Cristal from the state radio and TV said something very interesting in connection with Ari Shavit’s claim that Israel is going to attack Iran in September which was picked up by many, including Richard here. Cristal claimed that Shavit was told by somebody (obviously Netanyahu) to publish his said op-ed.
Richard Silverstein says
If Bibi is the winner, his victory is only temporary. History has a habit of making mincemeat of megalomaniacs like Bibi.
Shraga Elam says
He isn’t the only one around with an oversized ego.
Richard Silverstein says
I believe that Israel will attack Iran before the election.
In fact, the Obama administration has already been bought off and will do Israel’s bidding fully.
That is why Netanyahu was in Washington: to “seal the deal.”