Israel's Future Leader?
by Norman Solomon
AlterNet, January 6, 2006
The man campaigning to be the country's
next prime minister is smooth, media-savvy -- and dangerous.
With Ariel Sharon out of the picture,
Benjamin Netanyahu has a better chance to become prime minister
He's media savvy. He knows how to spin
on American television. And he's very dangerous.
Netanyahu spent a lot of his early years
in the United States. Later, during the 1980s, he worked at the
Israeli Embassy in Washington and then became Israel's ambassador
to the United Nations. By the time he moved up to deputy foreign
minister in 1988, he was a star on U.S. networks.
The guy is smooth -- fluent in American
idioms, telegenic to many eyes -- and good at lying on camera.
So, when Israeli police killed 17 Palestinians at Jerusalem's
Al-Aqsa Mosque in October 1990, Netanyahu led a disinformation
blitz asserting that the Palestinians were killed after they'd
rioted and pelted Jewish worshipers from above the Wailing Wall
with huge stones. At the time, his fable dominated much of the
U.S. media. Later even the official Israeli inquiry debunked Netanyahu's
account and blamed police for starting the clash.
Now, with Netanyahu campaigning to win
the Israeli election for prime minister in late March, he's cranking
up rhetoric against Iran. His outlook seems to be 180 degrees
from the world view of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yet in tangible political ways, they're well-positioned to feed
off each other's fanaticism.
The election that gave the presidency
of Iran to Ahmadinejad last summer was a victory for repressive
fundamentalism. Results have included a negative trend for human
rights in the country and a more bellicose foreign policy.
When Ahmadinejad declared in late October
that "Israel must be wiped off the map," he did a big
favor to the most militaristic of Israel's major politicians --
Benjamin Netanyahu -- who demanded that Prime Minster Sharon take
forceful action against Iran. Otherwise, Netanyahu said in December,
"when I form the new Israeli government, we'll do what we
did in the past against Saddam's reactor, which gave us 20 years
Netanyahu was referring to Israel's air
attack on the Osirak reactor in June 1981 to prevent Iraq from
developing nuclear weapons. But now the idea of bombing Iran is
nonsensical even to many analysts who are enthusiastic about Israel's
large nuclear arsenal, estimated at 200 warheads.
"Preemptive military attack is not
a strategy for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons anymore;
the changes in technology have made it obsolete." That's
the current assessment from Larry Derfner, who often writes about
Israeli politics for the Jerusalem Post. "Concealing a nuclear
start-up is so much easier now than it was in 1981 and it's only
going to get easier yet. Throwing fighter jets, commandos and
whatnot at Iran is more than risky; it's almost certainly futile
if not altogether impossible. Better for Israel and Israelis to
forget about it and instead meet the Iranian threat by making
this country's deterrent power even more intimidating than it
Derfner added: "A nuclear Iran isn't
a cause for indifference but neither is it a cause for dread and
certainly not for recklessness. A nuclear Iran is actually acceptable.
We can live with it. The truth is we've been living here with
threats very much like it all along."
But Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized
that he wants to launch a military strike on Iran. "This
is the Israeli government's primary obligation," he said.
"If it is not done by the current government, I plan to lead
the next government to stop the Iranians."
The specter of Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad
fueling each other's madness as heads of state is frightening.
In such a circumstance, the primary danger of conflagration would
come from nuclear-armed Israel, not nuclear-unarmed Iran.
Candidate Netanyahu is a standard bearer
for nuclear insanity. He's also an implacable enemy of basic Palestinian
human rights. Many Israelis understand that Netanyahu is an extremist,
and polls published on Jan. 6 indicate that the post-Sharon era
may not be as hospitable to Netanyahu as initially assumed.
For that matter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may
not serve out his full four-year term as Iran's president. Evidently
the hardline clerics who dominate the Iranian government got more
than they bargained for when they threw their weight behind the
Ahmadinejad campaign last June. In recent months, Iran's supreme
leader, Ali Khamenei, has shifted more power to the governmental
Expediency Council headed by the shady magnate Hashemi Rafsanjani,
a relatively moderate political hack who lost in the presidential
runoff last year.
Ahmadinejad is good at making statements
that cause international uproars, but he's having a difficult
time exercising presidential leverage. "Even in Iran's mostly
conservative parliament, the hard-line president has found himself
unable to get traction," the Los Angeles Times noted on Jan.
2. "In a first for the Islamic Republic, lawmakers turned
down four of the ministers Ahmadinejad asked them to approve.
It took him three months and four candidates to seat an oil minister.
Some reformist legislators even agitated for hearings on the president's
'lack of political competence.'"
Using religious claims to bolster their
quests for power, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Benjamin Netanyahu each
stand to gain by pointing to the menacing fanaticism of the other.
Yet many Iranians and Israelis recognize the grave dangers of
As tensions mount and pressures intensify,
the White House might end up acceding to an Israeli air attack
on Iran. Or the Bush administration may prefer to launch its own
air strike against Iran.
Iran. Israel. The United States. Each
country has the very real potential to move in a better direction
-- away from lethal righteousness. But in every society, that
will require more effective grassroots efforts for peace and justice.
Norman Solomon is the author of the new
book, "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning
Us to Death."