With the Iranian issue coming to a head, it's both ironic and a bit worrisome that the weight of the fateful decision is resting squarely on the shoulders of Benjamin Netanyahu. For despite his enormous potential – intelligent, charismatic, superb oratory skills, in-depth knowledge of economic issues – and despite the fact that he's been given chance after chance to be the type of Jewish leader that is so desperately lacking in Israel, Netanyahu has repeatedly failed to act at precisely those moments where his actions might have propelled the Jewish State in a very different and most likely healthier direction.
For starters, when he was first elected prime minister in 1996 there was anticipation amongst many in Israel that the newly elected Likud premier would stop the Oslo process, which the previous Labor government had initiated a few years earlier. However, rather than acting forcefully to halt an obviously irresponsible political gamble, one which included such insanities as arming Arafat's "police force" in return for his solemn promise that the weapons would not be used against us, the new prime minister not only failed to stop the Oslo train but he even gave it a push by handing over control of nearly all of the ancient city of Hebron to the Palestinians. Thus a golden opportunity to stop Oslo early on, preventing much of the damage and destruction it eventually caused the Jewish state, was missed.
Then a few years later when all eyes from the right were focused on Netanyahu, waiting for the only man who was believed capable of stopping Ariel Sharon and his Disengagement Plan to finally take charge and lead the revolt, Netanyahu once again failed to live up to expectations and meekly backed down. Thus with no one left to stop Sharon the plan was eventually implemented and roughly 10,000 Jews were thrown out of their homes and into a life of misery, while the Gaza Strip was transformed into one of the largest missile launching pads in the world.
Even now, during his second stint as prime minister, one in which he has been rewarded with a coalition very much to his liking, Netanyahu has continued to shy away from taking decisive action on certain key issues, perhaps most notably vis-à-vis the State Attorney's office and its total disregard for the government in issues related to Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.
Although his propensity to avoid taking a stand on issues which would require him to directly oppose various elements of the establishment has irritated many, on the issue of Iran, and regardless of what they'll say about him in the New York Times, Netanyahu can no longer procrastinate. Even the United Nations, not exactly a good friend of Israel, has recently stated that by February 2013 Iran will have everything that is required to build a nuclear bomb.
True, many will say that having the necessary parts and the ability to build a bomb is not yet a bomb and therefore Israel should not take unilateral action. Of course many of these same people were also big supporters of Oslo and the Gaza Disengagement, political undertakings that led to the death of many Israelis and which in retrospect were based upon assumptions that were clearly wrong. Additionally, some of the statements against unilateral Israeli action are coming from people, many even with good intentions, who are living in countries very far from Israel and from any direct threat from Iran. Whatever the case, for the most part such voices should be discounted, and I can only hope that Netanyahu is not being influenced by them.
Likewise, any opposition to Israeli action from President Obama, the man whose naïve policies have empowered extremist forces in the Arab/Islamic world, or from Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State who displayed her total lack of understanding of the Arab/Islamic world with her recent "how could this happen in a country we helped liberate?" comment, should not stop Israel from doing what is in its best interest.
At the end of the day, Netanyahu is going to have to make a decision and make it soon. Moreover, he will have to do this without the comfort of relying on the United States. Perhaps in some way this is heavenly justice, since for years Israeli leaders have been saying "never again", meaning that we will never again sit back and passively be slaughtered while waiting for the world to help us, while in reality Israeli leaders for years have been shying away from taking bold action in dealing with various threats and instead have increasingly turned time and again to the United States and the rest of the international community for help.
Although the result of an Israeli strike, either alone or with the United States, will possibly mean war, the cost of Israeli inaction might be far worse. This is certainly clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The question is whether he will finally rise to the occasion and overcome his tendency of failing to act.
Yoel Meltzer is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem. He can be contacted via yoelmeltzer.com