Netanyahu and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

by Kevin Jon Heller

Of course, that means it’s been a much better week for anyone who isn’t so keen on the prospect of attacking Iran.  I’m not sure the nails are in Netanyahu’s political coffin quite yet, but the carpenters are certainly gathering their supplies.  First up, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Chief of Staff of the IDF, rejecting the notion that Iran is run by lunatics hell-bent on nuclear war:

Gantz said: “[Iran] is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”

The chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces said the decision to develop nuclear weapons is only in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a [military] response,” he said in the interview published on Wednesday.

“I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile.”

“I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”

According to Gantz, western pressure on Iran by means of diplomacy and economic sanctions has had an effect on Tehran’s rulers but a military response is still an option, albeit the last.

Next up, Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, being remarkably blunt about Netanyahu’s dismal tenure as Prime Minister:

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin expressed harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday in a meeting with residents of the city of Kfar Sava, saying the pair is not worthy of leading the country.

“My major problem is that I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war,” Diskin told the “Majdi Forum,” a group of local residents that meets to discuss political issues.

“I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defense minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” he added.

Diskin deemed Barak and Netanyahu “two messianics – the one from Akirov or the Assuta project and the other from Gaza Street or Caesarea,” he said, referring to the two politicians’ places of residence.

“Believe me, I have observed them from up close… They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off. These are not people who I would want to have holding the wheel in such an event,” Diskin said.

“They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race,” said the former security chief.

And finally Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister and one-time Netanyahu ally, echoing Gantz:

Ehud Olmert spoke to Israel’s Channel 10 TV from New York.

“There is no reason at this time not to talk about a military effort,” he said, “but definitely not to initiate an Israeli military strike.”

Israel and the West suspect Iran is aiming to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Olmert was Israel’s prime minister from 2006-2009. He was in office when a suspected nuclear site in Syria was attacked in 2007. It was assumed that Israel carried out the airstrike, but Israel never acknowledged that.

Olmert’s remarks came after Israel’s former internal security chief, Yuval Diskin, said the government is misleading the public on the level of effectiveness of a military strike.

Meir Dagan, Israel’s ex-Mossad chief, told the station he supported Diskin’s view.

A bad week indeed for Netanyahu.  And that follows a week in which Dan Meridor, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, admitted that — contrary to Netanyahu’s repeated claims — Iran has never vowed to “wipe Israel off the map”:

Speaking to the Arab network, Meridor, who also serves as deputy PM, said Iran’s leaders “all come basically ideologically, religiously with the statement that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive.” However, he added, “They didn’t say ‘we’ll wipe it out,’ but (rather) ‘it will not survive, it is a cancerous tumor, it should be removed’. They repeatedly said ‘Israel is not legitimate, it should not exist’.”

In 2005 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying that Israel should be “wiped off the map,” but it was later revealed that the translation of his remarks, published by media outlets around the world, was incorrect. Ahmadinejad was actually quoting the leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution: “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.”

Asked by Al Jazeera about the possibility of a strike on Iran‘s nuclear facilities and the outbreak of war in the Middle East, Meridor said Israel does not want a war, but added that Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Here’s hoping that Israel has a new Prime Minister sooner rather than later.

9 Responses

  1. Besides having his father die, I doubt this has been more a bad week for Netanyahu because of politicians, past and future, talking in NY in a junkett conference against government policy without possessing up-to-date information, which is why we have government rather than bloggers and academics in charge.

    As for leaving academia and writing: “Here’s hoping that Israel has a new Prime Minister sooner rather than later”, I hope Heller wouldn’t mind outsiders interfering in his employment possibilities.

  2. Context is everything…

    “The Zionist regime is truly cancerous tumor that must be, and will be, cut off” Khameini proclaimed. In case anybody had any doubt as to his meaning, Khamenei posted on his official website in English the exact meaning of his Friday Sermon, delivered in Persian.
    This is hardly a new public position of Ayatollah Khamenei. the Washington Post “Fact-checker” quotes Khamenei as having stated approvingly in 2000, when he was also Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’ that: “Iran’s position, which was first expressed by the Imam [Khomeini] and stated several times by those responsible, is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region.”

    Now, Khameini is not all talk. Under his leadership, Iran has been actively involved, mainly through its proxies Hezbullah and Hamas, in wreaking deadly mayhem where it can. On February 2, 2012, in remarks made to worshippers during Friday prayers in Tehran and broadcast on state television, Khameini pledged that the Islamic Republic will help any nation or group that confronts the Jewish State and confirmed specifically that Iran continues to aid and abet Hizbullah and Hamas. One might recall that the avowed purpose of these organizations remains not only the obliteration of Israel but also the wholesale murder of Jews in preparation for the final salvation when they believe Muslims will rule the globe. (See Chapter 7 of Hamas’ Charter and recall, for instance, Hizbullah leader’s Hassan Nasrallah’s statement in 2002: “if they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”)

    Again – per his official website – Ayatollah Khamenei stressed: “Whenever we are involved, we explicitly declare it. We were involved in the anti-Israel events, which resulted in victories in the 33-day and 22-day wars. And from now on, wherever a nation or a group fights and confronts the Zionist regime, we will support and help it, and we are not at all afraid of saying this.” That morsel was a short-hand declaration of Iran’s direct support of Hezbollah’s 2006 and Hamas’ 2008 katyusha rocket wars, on Jewish civilians inside the 1949 ceasefire lines. (In this context, it bears noting that Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s targeting and firing of katyusha rockets at Israeli civilian populations inside the 1949 ceasefire lines is a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Convention). Khameini clearly has no qualms about targeting civilians via Iranian proxies in the furtherance of its goals.

    Here’s more food for thought: According to the Iranian website Alef, Khamenei -on February 6th- called Israel a danger to Islam, and claimed that there is “jurisprudential justification to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel . . . and in that, the Islamic government of Iran must take the helm.”

    So, let’s connect some dots: The Supreme Leader of Iran has repeatedly expressed the desire to see Israel wiped off the map. Rallies in Iran regularly have hordes screaming “Death To America” “Death to Israel” and “Death to England”, with great fervor.  Khameini himself has encouraged these chants as a religious refrain ( ) Khameini has proudly and actively aided and abetted proxies who believe it their religious duty to target Israeli civilians and whose agenda includes genocide, aimed at Jews worldwide.  This man now heads a regime that the IAEA reasonably believes is actively concealing a military nuclear program . Feeling comfy, yet? 

  3. Really, Kevin, would you say Obama has a bad week if John Bolton and Dick Cheney criticized him? I’d be careful about turning this into a blog about the politics of (select) foreign countries. Such public advocacy of manifestly partisan positions tends to undermine the credibility of one’s legal views. 

  4. Eugene,

    No, I wouldn’t.  But your analogy is inapposite.  John Bolton and Dick Cheney are far-right Republicans who are sworn political enemies of Obama.  Benny Gantz is the current Chief of Staff of the IDF, reports directly to Netanyahu’s Defense Minister, and was appointed by Netanyahu’s cabinet.  Yuval Diskin was the head of Shin Bet under two Likud governments, including two years under Netanyahu’s own Likud government.  So they are hardly comparable to Bolton and Cheney. 

    If over the next seven days Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, directly undermined Obama on the most critical foreign policy issue of his Presidency and Leon Panetta, Obama’s former head of the CIA, said that Obama’s messianic politics made him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief, I think it would be safe to say that Obama had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

  5. Eugene, I’d be careful about repeatedly taking the side of (select) foreign countries. Such public advocacy of manifestly partisan positions tends to undermine the credibility of one’s legal views.

    It’s interesting that both Yisrael and Eugene are more interested in chilling speech by making veiled threats about Kevin’s credibility and employment opportunities than in substantively engaging with the contents of his post. 

  6. I believe that the key part of Gantz’s statement is this bit: “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.”  This presumption of rationality is what has been missing from the debate on Iran (at least in the US), a casualty of the Hollywoodization of US foreign policy that has been one of its defining features in recent years.

  7. Perfectly agree with anon – there’s about half a million international lawyers ready to jump on the bandwagon to defend Western policies or Israel’s “self-defence” – as if all the threats in the world come from the East only. Kevin is a good counter-balance to this over-supply.

  8. It’s a weird world when citing the Chief of Staff of IDF gets you threats! C’mon folks!  Bolton and the rest are spouting insanity in an effort to gin up fear for Republican presidential race exploitation.  I suspect that is Netanyahu’s tack too with a hope of peeling Israeli supporters away from the Democrats as well as for the Israeli domestic game.  Khameini also playing at this.  Everyone betting that the othe guy will remain rational while they spout irrationality.  This may be a version of the language of diplomacy where everyone means the polar opposite of what they are saying.

    Politician’s promises only bind those who believe them.  True worldwide. 


  9. To some Anon, (at 12) who wrote:

    “It’s interesting that both Yisrael and Eugene are more interested in chilling speech by making veiled threats about Kevin’s credibility and employment opportunities than in substantively engaging with the contents of his post”.   What “veiled threats”? 

    I raised a point: if Heller wrote “Here’s hoping that Israel has a new Prime Minister sooner rather than later.”, I cannot write “I hope Heller wouldn’t mind outsiders interfering in his employment possibilities”?  In arguments, all must be subjected to the equal test of ‘if you can do that, then so can I’ (unless it is illegal).  No threat there. 

    In any case, it seems Israel has elections in September with Netanyahu way in the lead.  And since Elihu has illuminated the dark recesses of Iran’s thinking which Heller seems not to be able or willing to penetrate, can we suppose Heller is now having a bad week?

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