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Netanyahu’s 2016 UN speech. With the lack of a diplomatic agenda, he always returns to Iran
Photo: AFP
Photo: Michael Kramer
Alon Pinkas
Photo: Michael Kramer
We’ll always have Iran
Op-ed: Governing and conveying messages through speeches is possible, like in Winston Churchill’s case, but only when coupled with diplomatic action and courage. Netanyahu just offers overwhelming statements about the future of the planet if the world fails to deal with Iran.
At some point, without anyone asking “what’s all the fuss about?” Benjamin Netanyahu turned his United Nations speech into part of the Israeli calendar, into one of the High Holy Days. There’s Rosh Hashanah, there’s Yom Kippur, there’s Sukkot, there’s Simchat Torah and there’s “Netanyahu’s speech.” They all have an almost identical theological value.

 

 

The media wasn’t so obsessed with what the prime minister would say at the UN—as if the future of the Zionist enterprise depends on the speech—in the days of Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert, and even earlier.

 

Netanyahu’s meetings with US presidents have also turned into a reality show. From 2009 to 2016, the question was: “How bad will the meeting with Barack Obama be?” Since Donald Trump’s election, the question has been of course: “Will the prime minister succeed in convincing Trump,” Israel’s greatest friend since the destruction of the Temple, “to cancel or make significant changes in the nuclear agreement with Iran, and to stop nagging Israel about the Palestinians?”

 

Netanyahu and Trump at the UN, Monday. The Israeli prime minister has turned his meetings with US presidents into a reality show (Photo: Reuters)
Netanyahu and Trump at the UN, Monday. The Israeli prime minister has turned his meetings with US presidents into a reality show (Photo: Reuters)

 

With previous prime ministers, the meetings—even if they included misunderstandings or disagreements—were businesslike and mostly cordial (excluding Begin and Jimmy Carter). They were based on trust, reliability and goodwill. Only with Netanyahu, the nation’s fate depends on the actual meeting, which is always historic.

 

Netanyahu has turned the UN speech from a pretty insignificant event into the essence of the Zionist future. Netanyahu is misleading the public and the media into believing he is one of the leaders of the world. Moving countries, cancelling agreements, sketching geopolitics, designing a super strategy for the entire world. In what other country is the media preoccupied with the content of the speech for three days? Britain? Japan? Chile? Nigeria? For them, it’s just a speech.

 

Governing and conveying messages through speeches is possible, like in Winston Churchill’s case, only when coupled with diplomatic action and courage, rather than just overwhelming paragraphs about the future of the planet if the world fails to deal with Iran.

 

With the absence of a diplomatic agenda, Netanyahu goes back to Iran. We’ll always have Iran. In his defense, he truly believes in and is deeply convinced about the power and extent of the strategic threat posed by Iran. Iran affects his perception of the Palestinian issue, the submarine purchase, the relations with Russia and with the United States. It has been his credo every time he faces his voters since 2009, and it remained his credo even after the failure of his clumsy and unsophisticated attempt to thwart the nuclear agreement in 2015, including his Congress speech behind President Obama’s back.

 

This time, however, the drama is artificial. Granted, Trump doesn’t like the agreement. But Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly—who are all retired generals—have no intention of cancelling it.

 

The false pretense that the US will supposedly withdraw from the agreement—by failing to certify it on October 15 as required—is misleading. The agreement isn’t being cancelled. What Netanyahu can do, quietly and without bragging unnecessarily, is to create pressure to change Iran’s negative and dangerous regional conduct. It’s not part of the agreement, but that’s where the joint agenda with the US lies.

 

And that can’t be done through speeches aimed at impressing Coalition Chairman David Bitan.

 

Alon Pinkas served as Israel's consul general in New York.

 

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