Events of the last two weeks have undoubtedly given Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu good reason to feel a deep sense of achievement and to gloat. It is not that all his strategic goals have been fulfilled – far from it – but simply that progress appears to have been made, and this to a large extent is because he personally has played his cards well in the very specific current geopolitical reality.
For this, Netanyahu undoubtedly deserves a sincere “chapeau,” even from those, like myself, who believe that he is leading Israel, in terms of its basic values and daily modus operandi, to undesirable and perhaps even dangerous places.
The opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem today is certainly a joyous event, since the fact that to date there have been very few foreign embassies in Israel’s capital is totally unwarranted – a sort of agreed world-bluff that has existed for 70 years. Everyone knows that Jerusalem, and not Tel Aviv, is the capital of Israel.
The fact that the Embassy is being opened in West Jerusalem is undoubtedly not fortuitous, since even Trump’s United States understands that the final status of united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty in its current boundaries, is not a foregone conclusion, but something that must still undergo a process of negotiations and international agreement and cannot be the result of a unilateral Israel decision, which international law does not warrant, and even the Bible does not dictate.
Though we are unlikely to see a rush of foreign embassies to West Jerusalem in the near future, undoubtedly Netanyahu deserves credit for several announcements by additional foreign states that they are considering following the US: Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Romania and the Czech Republic – none of them, incidentally, liberal Western democracies.
Apparently this fact does not cause Netanyahu to lose sleep. His contempt for the liberal democracies, especially the European ones, is well known. The fact that they continue to stick on principle to the nuclear agreement with Iran, believing it to be better than nothing, and the fact that many of them contribute financially to Israeli human rights organizations and to institutions and humanitarian projects in the Palestinian Authority (and even in zone C) is certainly anathema to him.
What plays into Netanyahu’s hands is the fact that the two powerful and influential world leaders today – US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – do not suffer from the “bleeding heart” or “Munich Agreement” mentality of the leaders of the liberal democracies (the current US excluded), and Netanyahu apparently has what it takes to leave an impression on, and even influence these two.
What Netanyahu shares with Trump and Putin is their regard for International Law as nothing more than a recommendation. Trump and Putin are also known to pooh-pooh international agreements their states have signed in the past if these displease them (and let us be clear, it is the US that is in breach of the agreement with Iran, not Iran). All three play lip service to democracy, but all three are egomaniacs who believe they are God’s gift to their peoples and democracy is a default.
On the geopolitical level, Netanyahu’s goal – which no one who is concerned about Israel’s survival can oppose – is to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear capability, is not allowed to maintain a military presence in Syria and is forced to cease its financial and military support of various terrorist organizations that threaten Israel and other states in the Middle East.
Regarding Iran’s wish to acquire a nuclear capability, whether this succeeds will depend on whether its current regime will survive much longer, on whether even if it survives it will be able to afford its nuclear program, and the determination of the international community to do everything possible to prevent it from reaching its goal.
Though no one can predict what way any of this will go, Trump’s declaration last week that the US was walking out of the agreement with Iran and would be re-imposing heavy economic sanctions on it and on anyone acting contrary to these sanctions, and his approaching meeting with Kim Jong-un, leader of North Korea, which is known to have assisted Iran’s nuclear program in the past, is probably the closest Israel can get to trying to put a final stop to the Iranian nuclear program.
While Netanyahu’s theatrical revelation in English on television of the “nuclear archive” Israel had snatched out of Tehran was superfluous, certainly the information included in this archive and handed over to the US administration irrespective of Netanyahu’s performance, helped convince Trump to decide to act as he did, and for this Netanyahu deserves credit, no matter what the final outcome.
AS TO getting Iranian forces out of Syria, here Trump is of little or no use to Netanyahu. If anyone can assist, it is Putin.
We have no idea how Putin views the Iranian presence in Syria from a Russian perspective, nor how much leverage, if at all, he has over the Iranian leaders. In addition, does he view the Iranian presence as part of a mechanism to keep Bashar Assad in power in Syria? Does he take Israel’s existential concerns vis-à-vis Iran into consideration in his dealings with the Iranians? Has he been candid with Netanyahu about all of this?
No matter what the answers are to all these questions, or whether Russia is willing to act in order to remove Iran from Syria, it is a fact that Russia did not intervene in Israel’s concerted and very accurate attacks on Iranian targets in Syria last week. It is only Putin who can try to act as a middleman between Israel and Iran in an effort to satisfy Israel’s desires on the Syrian issue without the situation deteriorating into an all-out war. The fact that Netanyahu has managed to establish a tête-à-tête relationship with Putin is certainly a major achievement and even if in the final reckoning it will not help, it will certainly do no harm.
With regards to getting Iran to stop supporting terrorist organizations, here again it is Trump’s approach that is more helpful to Israel, since Iran’s economic capabilities are a factor in the level of the assistance it is able to hand out, even though this is not the only or even the most important determining factor.
Of course, at this point we do not know how all of this will end and whether Netanyahu’s personal dealings with both Trump and Putin will lead Israel to where it wants to be in the long run. But once again, Netanyahu certainly deserves credit for acting as he does, given that it could work. Perhaps developments will prove that the European leaders are naive and irrelevant. But then again, perhaps the developments will prove otherwise.
Finally, none of this releases Netanyahu from responsibility for contributing to the deterioration in the public norms prevalent in the Israeli government system, both through his personal and public conduct; in the cohesion of the Israeli society; and in the respect for democracy in its liberal rather than its majoritarian sense.
However, opinion polls suggest that the Israeli public is more impressed by Netanyahu’s handling of the Iranian issue than by his negative effect on Israel’s political system and society. Netanyahu certainly has reason to gloat.