HOWARD EPSTEIN: PM NETANYAHU — INVETERATE OR INVERTEBRATE?
Prime Minister Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu has had an amazing run of luck recently, both good and bad. Normalizing and enhancing relationships — and signing massive commercial deals — between Israel and countries in South America, Africa, Central Asia, the Far East (including China) and India, has to be recognized as a series of triumphs. Then there is the relationship with Trump’s America which promises, as an encore to recognising the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, to roll back multi-million dollar assistance to the Palestinians, because of their nihilistic and would-be revanchist leadership. At the same time, we see old enemies in the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, meeting in Cairo to confront the Iran-Hezbollah axis — the greatest menace that there is to Israel.
All these are evidence of good luck. That is not to say that the PM has not made his contribution but, in selling Israeli products to nations far and wide, the credit cannot go to him any more than it would have gone to any other leader who might have succeeded him had he not survived in post this long. For example, the Israeli-produced helmets for the US F35 multi-role jet plane would have been ordered by the Americans, whoever the Israeli prime minster would have been.
At the same time, it is not a secret that, whilst Bibi has enjoyed his astonishing run of good luck in trade deals that promise to ramp up the Israeli economy in the short term (and more so in the medium term) to heights not previously attained, his image has suffered grievously from several and diverse allegations of corruption which will sooner or later catch up with him. This is a matter of bad luck, either because he will prove in the long-term to have been falsely accused, or because the timing of their disclosure spoils the aesthetics of his premiership.
Netanyahu has another problem, too. Ten years in post — in the aggregate so far, but shortly possibly to become continuous also — have also corroded his premiership. Few leaders survive so long in a democracy, and one might argue that that is as it should be.
Consider the case of Margaret Thatcher, who transformed Britain from an industrial and commercial wasteland into a thriving member of the top half-dozen of developed nations, with the world’s most powerful services sector. In the City of London, more people work in financial services than there are people in Frankfurt, and most Euro clearing is carried out in London. New York likes to think it is supreme as a financial center but in the USA commodities are traded in Chicago. Not so in the City, which is the primus inter pares of commercial capitals; and, even with the arrival of China at the top table, Britain is still in the top half dozen of the world’s economies. Britain has Thatcher to thank for it, yet she was toppled in the eleventh year of her premiership — by her own party. Ten years? Enough is enough.
OK, so far Bibi has stood the test of time. He may thus fairly be regarded as an inveterate politician; but, one way or another, the downside for him, after so many years at the top and despite many successes on his record, must be greater than the upside.
Having said all that, Netanyahu may yet achieve JFK-like iconic status and secure not only his own legacy but also the future of Israel. All he has to do is make one speech: one speech to correct a potential disaster for which he alone, amongst all the prime ministers of the State of Israel, has — year on year — ignored until, like a festering abscess at the end of his proboscis, he can fail to ignore it no longer. I refer to the threat of Hezbollah and its reported 160,000 rockets pointed at Israel — and at every corner of Israel from Metullah to Eilat (by way of Dimonah) and from Ashdod and Haifa to Jerusalem.
Relentlessly and almost completely unopposed (a handful of missiles have been hit in transit), the Hezbollah rocket force has grown and become entrenched in Southern Lebanon, on Bibi’s watch. What was terrifying as a force of 20,000 rockets, and then 40,000 and then a fourfold multiple of that, has become so unconscionable now that Israelis walk around, work and party as though the missiles will never be used — or that something will, in short, turn up to neutralise them, so there is no need to waste time fretting over them.
That is Micawberism of the most self-defeating kind. It is delusional to the point of denial.
Those whose job it is to deal with the threat of more missiles than can be disposed of this side of the destruction of the whole of modern Israel, or Lebanon, or both, as we know them, console us by threatening that the use of such a missile force would mean that the IAF — touted as the most capable air force in the world, capable of destroying thousands of targets an hour — would knock Lebanon back to the Dark Ages. But they also talk of the evacuation of whole Israeli communities in the north in the event of war, thus abandoning in a heartbeat the sacred policy of populating our frontiers to maintain their integrity. There appears to be a self-confidence deficit here that should strike fear into the hearts of all sentient Israelis.
Given that it has been on Netanyahu’s watch that the missile-monster has been established, such that it threatens all that we know, what could Bibi do that would be more than a matter of basking in the glow conferred on him by the genius of the Israeli hi-tech industry and the great good fortune of Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, et al?
Make one speech. That is all. One speech. And it has already been substantially written for him. Here is the first draft:
This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Iranian military build-up in the state of Lebanon.
This urgent transformation of Lebanon into an important strategic base — by the presence of these large, long-range, and clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction — constitutes an explicit threat to the peace and security of all Israel, in flagrant and deliberate defiance of UN resolutions.
The decision to station strategic weapons on our doorstep — is a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which cannot be accepted by this country.
Acting, therefore, in the defense of our own security, it shall be the policy of this nation to regard any missile launched from Lebanon against Israel as an attack requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Islamic state of Iran.
I confess immediately: those words are not mine. I have paraphrased those of President John F Kennedy broadcast on nationwide TV (and therefore to the world) on October 22, 1962, about the Soviet build-up of a nuclear missile force on the island of Cuba, just 90 miles south of the US State of Florida. (See it on You Tube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgdUgzAWcrw.)
It worked. The Soviets extricated themselves, and the world, from the edge of nuclear winter. It was not easy, there was much open and clandestine diplomacy and the enforcement of the blockade of Cuba. It was two weeks before the world was able to breathe again.
It will not be easy for Israel to face down the Iranians but, as Churchill demonstrated — first by being ignored for almost a decade and then by standing alone against the Nazi monster — if you do not confront tyrants, you will surely die. If you do seek to face them down, you may well prevail.
The Nazis could have been stopped. Had the French not been craven and faced Hitler down when he marched into the Rhineland in 1935 in defiance of the post WWI treaties, and had the British not disgracefully served up, as a sacrifice — a burnt offering, one might say — Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938, to buy what turned out to be one solitary year of peace, a devastating world war may well have been averted, and the Holocaust would not have become the most shocking and tragic part of our long history.
Then again, seventy years ago this spring, the US state department set out to reverse the November 1947 UN resolution for the partition of Palestine, on the basis that, upon independence, the Jews might be annihilated by the Arabs. Chaim Weizmann persuaded Harry Truman that without a state the Jews would indeed be annihilated (dying a slow death also in Displaced Persons camps in Austria, Germany and Cyprus) but, given a fighting chance, they might survive. We did.
Our long history would come to a crashing halt if Iran and Hezbollah were to be indulged too long. The time to threaten Iran — directly — is now, before it becomes a nuclear power, and whilst the Trump administration has our back. The mullahs need to be told that we have registered, and will act upon, the plain link between Tehran and its Hezbollah proxies in our back-yard, and that if death and destruction come to Israel, it will be visited, in retaliation, not merely upon Lebanon but also upon Iran, such that it too will cease to exist. Accordingly, the Hezbollah missile force must be dismantled.
The opportunity is here and now for the Israeli prime minister who allowed the missile-monster to grow and swell. Does he have the backbone? Is Netanyahu merely inveterate or also invertebrate?
© Howard Epstein, January 2018
The author’s book, Israel at Seventy: In Weizmann’s Image is available now from Amazon in paperback or as a Kindle e-book
As Israel reaches its seventieth birthday, it is timely to consider the story of its indispensable founder, Chaim Weizmann. Statesman and scientist, it was Weizmann who saved the British Empire from defeat in World War I, kindled the hope for the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, after an absence of 2,000 years, and was then instrumental in securing what was needed to establish the State of Israel and its future as a technological powerhouse. Weizmann may be said to be the world’s first 20th century — even 21st century — man. If any aspects of modern life became supremely important last century, and remain so in this, they are science & technology and networking. Weizmann’s chemistry, both in the laboratory and with a wide-range of key people, led to his four great political coups, each essential to the emergence of the State of Israel. In addition, he pulled off three crucial educational feats that secured Israel’s future and ensured its success — in his image. In the case of the political achievements, only Weizmann could have wrought them. In the case of the others, only he did. Despite these signature successes, today little is known of him and what he achieved. Why this should be so is revealed in a tale of rivalry between two political giants: Weizmann, the greater talent, but the older, and his nemesis, David Ben-Gurion.
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Amazon UK — Kindle E-Book