Bruce Wolman writes:
Last week I asked the question, "Who is the bigger obtstacle to peace, Netanyahu or Ahmadinejad?" Aluf Benn of Ha'aretz goes a long way towards answering the question this morning: "Is Netanyahu bringing Israel closer to a 'second Holocaust?" Benn is one of Ha'aretz's most senior diplomatic correspondents. Only Akiva Eldar is more respected globally. He begins,
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's actions are shaped by a profound conviction that Israel will be in danger of extermination if Iran has nuclear weapons at its disposal. Removing the Iranian threat to Israel has been Netanyahu's main goal for years, and the Iranians' progress in this realm has only reinforced his awareness that the fateful hour of decision is approaching.
While Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert were no slouches when it came to worrying about an Iranian nuclear threat, none of them quite preached against a "Second Holocaust" as Netanyahu does. "We will not allow the Holocaust-deniers to perpetrate another Holocaust against the Jewish people," he warned at the state ceremony on Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day last week. [One reason I had hoped Ahmadinejad wouldn't play his role so well at Durban II last week .]
Whether it is government spin or the truth, senior Israeli officials are spreading the word that Netanyahu is just as serious in private. Benn writes, "They are convinced that he truly believes it is his historic mission to rescue the Jewish people from a catastrophe." Heaven help us.
As far as Netanyahu is concerned, a decisive turning point in world history will occur when Iran completes its nuclear bomb. This will mean that significant control over the world's energy resources will be in the hands of a fanatical sect of ayatollahs, and will turn the Arab countries, against their will, into Tehran's satellites….
Netanyahu does not speculate where history will be if it turns out Iran is not building a bomb–the CIA has not been able to determine either way. Although the rest of us are not allowed to draw any analogies between Israel and the Nazis, Netanyahu frequently compares Iran to Nazi Germany and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler. To make up for the international community's past silence in the face of the Nazis, Bibi tries to compensate with his Iran diatribes, as if that will bring back the six million.
Netanyahu proclaims that the "Second Holocaust" will be "an attempt to eradicate the State of Israel." For him, Iran is no longer just an existential threat to Israel. Upping the ante, he declares that
… the Jewish people's continued existence depends on the State of Israel's continued existence. Today, a great proportion of the world's Jews live in Israel, the only place where they can truly enjoy the revitalization of Jewish life, while their coreligionists are gradually being lost to assimilation elsewhere.
Apparently, Jewish life cannot survive in countries like the United States. It's almost comical to hear that the scandal-prone, thrice married, not very religious, ethically-challenged Bibi is going to make sure Jewish life is revitalized in Israel. The man who brought American-style politics to Israeli elections and American-style economic reform to the Israeli economy is committed to making certain that Israel remains a haven for those holding firm to their Yiddish and Sephardic roots and cultures.
Benn, a student of diplomatic history, mentions in his article the British historian Ian Kershaw and his impressive book, Fateful Choices. "Kershaw describes the 10 most critical decisions about World War II, made in 1940-41 by the leaders of Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the U.S." Whereas the leaders believed they were acting out of their own volition, Kershaw demonstrates
… that freedom of choice is an illusion. When leaders reach the moment of truth, they are bound by their character, by ideology and beliefs that prompted them to run for office, by their countries' military and economic capabilities, and – above all – by their commitment to their previous decisions. Any deviations will probably be more closely linked to the type of regime and its decision-making mechanisms than to content.
Applying Kershaw's parameters, Benn assesses Netanyahu:
His role model is Winston Churchill, the man who warned about Germany's strengthening in the 1930s and was considered an eccentric right-wing militarist until he was called upon to save Britain in World War II, after his doomsday prophecies came true. Like him, Netanyahu also sees himself as a prophet at the gate, who saw the dangers of terror and extremist Islam before others did, and has now received a second chance to prove the justice of his claims and remove the threats to Israel and the Jewish people. A person with such historical awareness does not just spew out empty words about existential dangers, Holocaust and destruction. These words obligate him to take action. And his declarations to date have been so extreme he will have difficulty retreating from them.
We all remember the last President who thought he was the next incarnation of Winston Churchill, and we know how well that turned out.
Benn sees Netanyahu's first test to be his upcoming visit with President Obama. Netanyahu will try to convince Obama to use "all the diplomatic, economic and military capabilities of the American superpower" to halt Iranian armament. Benn argues that in return Netanyahu understands Israel will have to enter into a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and maybe the Syrians. What Benn doesn't state is whether this process is to be serious or just a cover for America's Arab allies.
Benn acknowledges the Israeli media campaign we've all been witnessing. He notes "that Israel has upped its verbal tirade against Iran" and that the simple message is, "If the world doesn't halt Iran's nuclearization, Israel will act alone, and it is already preparing for such an eventuality." What a surprise that Jeffrey Goldberg was picked to deliver the message directly from Netanyahu.
Of course, Netanyahu's political rivals couldn't let him play the role of protector-warrior and adviser to Obama all by himself. Defense Minister Ehud Barak called again for Obama "to determine a deadline for talks with Iran and to prepare a threatening package of sanctions in case the negotiations fail." Barak had already warned a few weeks ago "that the time for dealing with Iran is running out."
Benn is aware that Israel "will find it difficult to attack Iran alone without a 'green light' from America, even if it is only implied and if America ostensibly turns a blind eye." But Benn chillingly conjectures,
[O]nce the moment of truth arrives, it is doubtful Obama would give the order to take down the Israeli planes heading to Iran – or for that matter to declare an end of aid to Israel or to sever relations. Obviously, the U.S. will want to remain somewhat distanced from any operation that is launched, so as not to be vulnerable to the anticipated Iranian response. But its strong commitment to Israeli security will not allow America to forcibly prevent a military operation designed to prevent a second Holocaust. That is the message Netanyahu will try to implant in the minds of the members of Congress
That a moderate Israeli journalist, one who has spend a number of years covering Washington, believes that Israel can attack Iran and the US will not object, and that the U.S. will be able to dodge the Iranian response, should have us all building gasoline storage tanks in our backyards.
As long as the diplomatic process continues, and Obama is asking Israel to hold off on any action, it is too early to declare that a war against Iran is inevitable. But Netanyahu's rise to power is clearly bringing Israel to such a conflagration, because of the gravity he attributes to the Iranian threat and his belief that he is tasked with saving Israel and the Jewish people from destruction.
As Joe Biden predicted, Obama is going to be tested in the months ahead. Let's hope Rahm has his back instead of a knife into his Presidency. Otherwise, Obama will have a third war on his hands. This one, however, will not have been inherited from the Bush administration.