Nahum Barnea

Plenty to think about

Prime Minister Netanyahu has much on his plate these days

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was once asked to describe the situation in his country in one word. “Good,” he replied. The person who asked the question wanted a more detailed, two-word description. “Not good,” Yeltsin said.


This is more or less how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feels right now. In Paris, he was embraced and kissed. Sarkozy and Berlusconi like to kiss; their lips had known many cheeks, belonging to both men and women. They have no problem kissing Muammar Gaddafi one day and Israel’s prime minister the next day.


However, a UN committee in New York made an embarrassing decision, which challenges Israel’s nuclear ambiguity. The Obama Administration scarified the immediate Israeli interest on the altar of two matters that are more important in its view: Firstly, nuclear disarmament. Obama adopted the idea, which was actually born in the American Right. Secondly, the support of moderate Arab states, headed by Egypt.


Egypt has trouble accepting something that others possess and it does not. For years, it has engaged in an international campaign against Israeli nukes. There is no contradiction between its struggle against Israel’s nuclear program and its objection to Iranian nukes: It views both as a threat to its security and status.


Israel sustains two blows here: Instead of concern over Iran’s nuclear armament prompting international institutions to close ranks with Israel, it merely worsens our isolation. It would be nice to think that the condemnations of Israel are lip service aimed at serving as cover for harsh, effective measures against Iran. Yet for the time being it doesn’t look like that.


The flotilla heading to Gaza is not helping. Netanyahu must certainly be disturbed by the unpleasant photos of the clash between IDF forces and the protestors. Yet what should concern him to a much greater degree is the ongoing deterioration in our ties with Turkey. This is not a public relations problem: It’s a strategic problem.


Rethink Gaza policy

The UN decision, in the manner it was drafted, left Netanyahu no choice but to issue a counter-statement. The Turkish-Hamas flotilla also left Israel with one choice only: Trying to hinder it.


Yet when he goes to bed at night, somewhere in Canada, the prime minister would do well to think not only about today and tomorrow, but rather, about two days from now. Perhaps it is time to end the nuclear ambiguity. What was perhaps good for deterring enemies that plot to take over Israel with tanks may not deter an enemy that plots to eliminate Israel with missiles. Israel’s nukes apparently don’t scare Iran. The question is whether they scare anyone in the current-day Middle East.


The Gaza question also begs further thinking. The Gaza blockade has failed apparently. It did not prevent rockets and other weapons from being transferred into the Strip. It did not weaken Hamas. Yet it did present Israel’s security establishment in a ridiculous light. Nobody was able to explain why cilantro, or up until recently clothes, were considered a security threat banned from the Strip.


And if the prime minister is not falling asleep, he can also think about what he’ll be telling President Obama in their upcoming meeting in Washington. Obama will want to get something ahead of his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas. Nice words won’t do.


It appears that everything converges towards autumn – September, October, or November: The Iranian question, Mitchell’s mediation efforts, the settlement freeze, elections in the US, the domestic political pressures, Barak’s timeline, and possibly an indictment against Lieberman.


Time has a strange quality in the Middle East: When things happen, when we see initiative, when there’s action - time stands still. On the other hand, when nothing happens, time flies. The summer had not yet started, yet we already see autumn, with the clouds and wailing winds. Indeed, the prime minister has plenty to think about in his bed, somewhere in Canada.


פרסום ראשון: 05.30.10, 18:01
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