“The first result of the atrophy of Jewish resistance was physical destruction on an unimaginable scale.” In his book A Place Among the Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu measures millennial Jewish endurance on the scales of action versus inaction. In his assessment, the inert Jew fades and dies, while the resistant fighting Jew survives. It is this polarity that provides Netanyahu with an appraisal of what the modern Jew, inhabiting his ancient homeland, needs to do to outlast his foes. Netanyahu’s policies are propelled by a willful claim to life and land by means of a strong economy supporting a resilient deterring army. The contrasts between Dreyfus and Dayan, the shtetl and the Intel R&D campus, the pitiful wandering Jew and the decorated IAF captain define Netanyahu’s political ethos.
When news first emerged of the upcoming March 3rd joint session address, wherein Netanyahu is expected to eloquently plead for the derailment of a deal with Iran, critics on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to highlight the impropriety of the timing and the lack of notice to the President of the United States.
With an upcoming Israeli parliamentary election, Netanyahu is ceaselessly accused of politicizing the Iranian threat by creating an hour-long campaign ad on the world’s greatest political stage – the United States Congress. The convergence of a looming election with an opportunity to be portrayed as a stately, articulate and powerful leader of the Jewish State is being repeatedly described as nothing more than cynical opportunism coordinated with friends in the House of Representatives, without notice to or support of President Obama.
As the choir of disapproval grows louder – from opposition leaders in Israel to leading Democrats and even the UJA – Netanyahu’s domestic opponents have been closing in to within a threatening margin. This raises a practical question. If political opportunism provided the impetus for such alleged grandstanding, wouldn’t Netanyahu have retreated by now? The opposite has occurred. In the face of growing contempt by leading Democrats, threats of congressional empty seats and a growing electoral threat at home, Netanyahu has doubled down on his perceived need to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran short of a military attack.
This bold approach needs to be read within Netanyahu’s broader understanding of the limitations of negotiation. When describing the challenge of unilateral territorial concessions, Netanyahu has famously asserted that “Israel will be patted on the back and congratulated as long as it continues to make unilateral concessions. But once an Israeli government decides, as it inevitably must, to draw a line beyond which it cannot retreat, the international applause will cease – and pressure will begin again. Hence the test of Israeli diplomacy is not whether it can gain short term sympathy by sacrificing Israel’s vital interests, but whether it can protect these interests while securing international understanding and support.” This logic probably extends to Netanyahu’s understanding of how to best maneuver through the vexing Iranian nuclear problem and President’s Obama’s haste to resolve it at great risk to Israel.
Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel will not allow Iran to acquire the capability to develop a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu is convinced that a fundamental argument needs to be strongly laid out on the world stage before legitimacy, or at least subdued scorn, can be secured for any action by Israel should that become necessary. Following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in response to countless PLO attacks against Israel’s northern towns, Israel did almost nothing to explain its actions and as a result, left the vacuum of information to be filled by Arab propaganda. As a young diplomatic emissary, it was Netanyahu that was tasked to explain, defend, justify and refute. According to Netanyahu, Israel’s image is still haunted by the void left by Israel’s torpid public opinion campaign during the first Lebanon war.
Along with the need to explain, comes the need to act. On May 9, 1972, Benjamin Netanyahu confronted evil in a perilous take over of the hijacked Sabena Airlines Flight 571. At great risk to himself and the passengers, he and fifteen other members of Sayeret Matkal eliminated the terrorist hijackers after bravely boarding the Boeing 707 as supposed technicians. His unit was not tasked with negotiating with the hijackers. They were tasked with exacting the terrorists’ elimination. For Netanyahu, non-negotiation and threat elimination in the face of imminent danger were not to become brief and fleeting tactics, but rather, defining strategies that he understands as essential for long-term survival.
The coupling of the need to explicate, and if necessary, the pursuit of justified action with a semblance of acquired legitimacy, best defines Netanyahu’s twofold approach. The Congressional address will not just highlight the dangers of the proposed deal with Iran, but also provide Netanyahu with another opportunity to yet again lay out Israel’s strategic red lines.
It is through this dual prism of speech and action that we can best appreciate Netanyahu’s undeterred and courageous pursuit of a Congressional joint session address – even if at a political cost to himself and his party and at the risk of increasingly strained relationship with a not so sympathetic White House.
In his mind, the question is not whether or not to speak, but whether or not he will be believed.