Netanyahu’s war footing: An Israeli catastrophe
There are two policy goals that have driven both of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s two terms in office: stopping the prospect of Palestinian statehood as envisioned in the two-state solution, and preventing Iranian proliferation of nuclear weapons. In recent weeks, amplified by the qualified warnings of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, there is a growing fear that Netanyahu may attempt to accomplish both of these policy goals by launching an unimaginably devastating war – with Iran.
Twice, Netanyahu has entered office when the Palestinian-Israeli peace process was at a fairly advanced stage. Twice, he worked to prevent it from reaching fruition. Without granting him full credit for the absence of peace in the Middle East, Netanyahu has made clear on many occasions that he is unwilling to accept the terms that were all-but agreed to by previous Israeli governments. In a video from 2001 released last year, the prime minister is shown explaining just how he sabotaged the Oslo process in the 1990s. More recently, Netanyahu has rejected the previously agreed-upon framework for peace and introduced his own conditions, which seem to have been designed to prevent negotiations from ever taking place.
The threat of Iranian nuclear proliferation is the second theme of Netanyahu’s two terms in Israel’s premiership. As early as 1996, in his first speech to the US Congress, the much younger Netanyahu began his campaign to enlist the world into the fight against Iranian nuclear armament. Then, like now, he warned that time was running out and the world must act immediately to stop Tehran before it developed The Bomb. Despite being wrong about the actual urgency, his rhetoric has not changed and continued talk of “keeping all options on the table” is a direct threat of military action against Iran. Netanyahu believes that striking the Iranian nuclear program as Israel did to those of Iraq and Syria is one of the few options on the table.
Both of these policy goals are dangerous. Israel cannot continue to prevent Palestinian statehood without radically revising Zionism or ending the project altogether. An Israeli military strike on Iran is even more dangerous, as it would likely lead to an absolutely devastating regional war involving at least Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria, as well as other regional and global terrorist organizations. Furthermore, both enterprises only serve to further the unsustainable global political and economic isolation Israel is increasingly facing.
But Netanyahu sees the two issues as interconnected. Even those outside of the Netanyahu camp see a linkage. One of the mantras regularly heard in Israeli security circles is that if Hamas gains a stronger foothold in the West Bank, there will be an Iranian proxy in Israel’s backyard. Contrarily, Israeli doves often say that by making peace with the Palestinians, Israel will be better able to enlist more Sunni Arab states in its efforts to stop Iranian nuclear armament. Netanyahu is in the first camp, believing that peace with the Palestinians, although not desirable, is only remotely possible once the “Iranian threat” is neutralized.
In the past few months, recently retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan has stated that Netanyahu is on a warpath towards Iran. In the last few weeks,he went even further, warning that he and several other recently-retired security chiefs were the only force in the government opposing a military strike on Iran, and expressed his worry that there is nobody left to stop Netanyahu today. Furthermore, Dagan warned that as the Palestinians’ September Plan to seek statehood in the United Nations nears, key players in the current Israeli government are likely to become more rash and desperate, leading them to “take reckless action against Iran.”
While a military strike on Iran would likely be catastrophic (several former chiefs of the Mossad and Military Intelligence recently predicted (Hebrew) that such a strike would be the end of Israel as we know it), if Netanyahu believes a war would serve to prevent both Iranian nuclear ambitions as well as Palestinian statehood, he may just take that route. Within the imaginary paradigm that the prime minister operates, it would be strategically expedient.
Indeed, due to Tehran’s dangerous rhetoric and history of supporting organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is something that Israel needs to pay close attention to. Likewise, although Netanyahu’s efforts to prevent the two-state solution altogether are misguided and potentially catastrophic, the establishment of a Palestinian state outside the framework of bilateral negotiations does endanger several Israeli interests – albeit, not existentially so.
That said, Israeli military action against Iran – regardless of Netanyahu’s intentions – would cause more damage to Israel in blood, treasure and world standing than it is capable of sustaining. It is difficult to imagine that Netanyahu doesn’t believe he is protecting Israel’s most vital interests when formulating his policies and he must believe that Israel could survive a war with Iran. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Just because the prime minster wants nothing more than to protect Israel, doesn’t mean he won’t destroy it in the process.
This post first appeared as a Jerusalem Post blog