Israel’s prime minister is obsessed with Iran. The rest of Israel? Not so much.

October 2, 2014

Israel's PM Netanyahu addresses the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, are essentially the same thing.

During a diatribe against Iran in his United Nations speech on Monday, Netanyahu asked: “Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop intercontinental ballistic missiles? Of course you wouldn’t.”

It was almost as if Netanyahu views Iran and ISIS as interchangeable. But the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way — least of all the United States, which is making a crucial last push for a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, even as it musters an international coalition to fight the Islamic State.

In insisting that Iran and ISIS are essentially the same enemy, Netanyahu broadcast his isolation among world leaders and underscored the jadedness of the idea that he has championed for most of his political career: the imminence of an Iranian nuclear bomb and the apocalyptic threat it would pose to the free world.

After all these years, Netanyahu still calls for every nook and cranny of Iran’s nuclear program to be demolished by military force, though preferably not Israel’s alone.

The isolation of his views was evidenced not only by the near-empty General Assembly hall when he gave his speech, but also in the Israeli media.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran (which Netanyahu persistently, if not naggingly, referred to as “The Islamic State of Iran”) was referenced in Netanyahu’s speech many more times than ISIS, the Israeli media did not follow suit.

They instead focused on Netanyahu’s appeal to “moderate” Arab states to unite against common threats, including militant Islam. A few outlets looked at Netanyahu’s riposte to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ charges of genocide. And even the most pro-Netanyahu daily, Yisrael Hayom, led with a headline proclaiming the Israeli Defense Forces to be “the most moral army in the world”– a quote from the speech, but not about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear project.

The Israeli media’s disinterest in Netanyahu’s Iran obsession is matched at home. In poll after poll, Israelis consistently put Iran behind such concerns as street crime and the rising cost of living.

Netanyahu’s fixation on Iran has also deepened divisions between Israel’s political leadership and top military brass. The nadir was reached in 2010, when Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the army to stand by for an imminent attack on Iran and the chief of staff refused to comply.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who related the incident two years later, added that he’d never before seen the entire political leadership adamantly insisting on one course of action and the entire professional military leadership absolutely opposing it.

Four years on, the issue still festers. At the peak of the war in Gaza this summer, analyst Shlomi Eldar accused Netanyahu of all but turning a blind eye to Hamas’ tunnels that formed a pretext for the ground incursion. The reason for this, Eldar charged, was that the prime minister was completely “obsessed” with Iran.

Netanyahu’s absolutist approach to Iran is also straining Israel’s bond with the United States. For all the grandeur, courtesy and genuine complexity that feed into the staple American reference to Israel as an ally, the relationship between the two is, on the strategic level, fundamentally that of a patron power and a client state.

The client retains its value only so long as it aligns itself with the interests of its patron — or at the very least tries not to undermine them. On Iran, however, Netanyahu has repeatedly attempted to dictate to America what its interests should be in trying to hamstring his patron’s push toward a nuclear deal with Iran.

Such an agreement could radically shift the power paradigm in the Middle East toward a more open, less violent and more consensus-based arrangement. Would Israel see itself as a player in this new arrangement or outside it?

Depends on who you ask.

The relative silence of most Israeli institutions on the talks on Iran’s nuclear program suggests they are reluctant to make themselves entirely external to the potential new paradigm. But Netanyahu’s speech — intransigent as it was – indicates that at least one Israeli leader will go down fighting rather than bring Israel on board.

PHOTO: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also seen on a television monitor, addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif 

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No wonder the UN GA was empty during his speech. No one likes to listen to a dog yapping.

Posted by delusional112 | Report as abusive

Netanyahu is a mad man and should be executed for crime against humanity. It is so sad that this man is still walking and talking.

Posted by jmcroberts2012 | Report as abusive

Advocates of allowing Iran to retain the infrastructure for its nuclear program are under the mis-guided belief that Iran can be trusted. It’s even odder when taken in the context that the main reason why nuclear talks with Iran tanked was not the demands of the P5+1 nations, but the near hysterical rant-filled speeches by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei in which he reiterated Iran’s commitment to a jihad against the West, especially the US and remained adamant about Iran’s commitment not to relent on upgrading, let alone reducing its centrifuges and its ballistic missile technology, both the core elements of any nuclear weapons program. Iran is focused on possessing nuclear weapons. Iran leaders always have and always will want nuclear weapons and no amount of talk is going to change their mind.

Posted by ChangeIranNow | Report as abusive

ChangeIranNow..Jihad? Do you mean Khameni’s fatwa against nuclear weapons?Hysterical rant filled you mean the ones by your leader Bibi? Focusing on nuclear weapons? Do you mean the hundreds of thousands possessed by Israel?. Do I even need to say you are a bit biased..

Posted by NormaLee10 | Report as abusive

So sick of hearing Netanyahu crying wolf, we need to give Iran a chance to reach a comprehensive deal this can only be a win win for all parties involved.

Posted by mathewtabz | Report as abusive

Well, lets see:

“belief that Iran can be trusted “, no one said that and there is zero evidence that any decision is based on trust
“Iran’s commitment to a jihad against the West”, just purely False. While Khamenei has repeatedly blamed US for all the problems, he has never said “Jihad against West”. His rhetoric has always been never trust west, but the word “Jihad” or anything that would suggest ofensive action or violence has never appeared in his speech.
“Iran is focused on possessing nuclear weapons”, no evidence for that exists.

Well, I guess if you make up such things, you can almost claim anything you want.

Posted by bobbi-me | Report as abusive

This is anti-Israeli propaganda pure and simple. Hate cloaked in a strawman argument is still hate.

Posted by GiganteVerde | Report as abusive

thank you for your fair article (American media are so biased toward Israel that I read somewhere if you reprint an article from haretz in America you will be accused of writing anti-Semite peace???????)

Posted by 1mazdak | Report as abusive

“Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop intercontinental ballistic missiles? Of course you wouldn’t.”

This man is hoping that the American public is as stupid as he thinks they are.

Posted by HalfPersianAlex | Report as abusive

Netanyahu will soon disappear down the hole he’s digging.

Posted by Procivic | Report as abusive

A joke is not funny when it’s repeated too much. Bibi is a “has-been” clown and nobody wants his dog-and-pony show.

Posted by Cambise | Report as abusive

Who would you rather have as a neighbor – Bibi or Ayatollah

Posted by jackdanielsesq | Report as abusive

History repeats: Great Britain’s prime minister is obsessed with Nazi Germany. The rest of Great Britain, not so much.

Posted by theBuckWheat | Report as abusive

Bibi obsession will be his downfall – less than 30% of Israelis, and an even smaller 20% of the global Jewish diaspora share his obsession over Iran and would not want to go to war .. It is a great mistake to allow oneself to become isolated. From 1954 to 1979 Israel and Jews had a special relationship with Iran under the Shah. That ened with the Khomenei… But it has left behind a great deal of knowledge of Iran within Israel. In an abrupt U Turn Bibi should find a way to “rapproche” and remove the Iran threat through peaceful “guile”, not threats and war drums..

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive

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