Jeffrey Goldberg has recently penned an article on the latest Boehner-Obama snafu, or as he calls it, The Netanyahu Disaster. Goldberg is one of the most influential writers to cover Israel and the Middle East. There there is much to say about this article, but I would like to focus on one crucial point which Goldberg fails to understand.
Goldberg is sympathetic to the plight of Bibi Netanyahu. He tells us that when facing the threat of a nuclear Iran, Bibi has two options: military assault, or to convince the United States to confront Iran.
But this is a false dichotomy. Yes, Bibi can either launch an all-out military offensive, or take a back seat (at best) at the negotiating table, hoping the United States will serve Israel’s interests.
But the truth is that Israel has been operating within a great middle ground of options involving stealth, precision, and ingenuity, operations which Israel has been denying for years. For example, Israel has denied involvement with the Stuxnet computer worm. Israel has also denied any involvement in the explosion of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel has also denied pinpoint strikes against Syrian nuclear facilities.
So Israel is not quite as hopeless against the Iranian nuclear threat without the United States as Goldberg would have us believe. But let’s suspend our disbelief and go with what Goldberg tells us is Bibi’s only option.
Now, Goldberg recognizes that diplomatically, Netanyahu is in a tough spot. Obama already loathes Bibi, and Bibi resents Obama. So what’s the Israeli Prime Minister to do? Well, Goldberg tells us that Bibi should simply trust Obama to make a deal with Iran which will allow Israelis to sleep at night. And how should Israel ensure that this happens?
Through consistent efforts to work with Obama “in order to shape the president’s thinking.” Oh, and also to initiate negotiations with the Palestinians.
But really, all this is entirely beside the point.
The crucial point which Netanyahu realizes and which Goldberg misses is that in a way Israel can learn to live with a nuclear Iran. Israel has lived under existential threat before. Hell, with 150,000 rockets aimed Israel’s way you might say Israel is living under existential threat right now.
The reason Netanyahu cannot leave the fate of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in Obama’s hands is that doing so would undermine the very inspiration of Israel. Jews returned to the Land of Israel because the Jewish State gives Jews the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves as Jews, diplomatically, morally, militarily. Israelis have been willing to risk their lives for the idea that they have a right to take their place among the community of nations and determine their future. Part of what differentiates the Jews of history from the Jews of Israel is not greater safety, but the right and ability to protect themselves. While Obama can afford a level of sanguinity in his negotiations with Iran, Netanyahu simply cannot allow the Iranians to get the bomb, even if they never use it. Not only because it would pose an existential threat to Israel and destabilize the region. But on an ideological plane a nuclear-capable Iran is unthinkable. It would be the dissolution of the Zionist Dream.