Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Return of Benjamin Netanyahu

(image via midwinter)

Israeli politics is so dizzyingly volatile that an election can turn in the space of a single event. It is enough to give an astute Middle East election watcher a case of cognitive vertigo. Add terrorist bombs to the event, and you get an idea, however slight, of the role Hazard plays in that dangerous part of the world. Americans thought the Reversal of Fortune of George Bush 41, from 90-plus percent approval rating post First Persian Gulf War to electoral defeat in a 3-way dance was astonishing; that's nothing in Israeli politics. And a politician all but dead can be resurrected. Such, we belive, is the case with the impossibly ambitious Thumoeideutically charged Benjamin Netanyahu, last seen in crushing defeat at the hands of Ariel Sharon, now, presently, on the rise, comparing the rise of Persia to the Rise of Hitler's Nazi Party, circa 1938. From the Financial Times:

"Mr Netanyahu has emerged as Israel’s most prominent hawk in the debate on how to deal with Iran’s perceived threat. He has claimed, in the US and Israel, that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president, is planning a second Holocaust and warned: 'It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.'

"Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister and a long-term political rival, has attempted to dampen such rhetoric by stating that Israel is committed to an international diplomatic solution to the Iranian crisis.

"Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, indirectly rebuked Mr Netanyahu when she this month said of his 1938 reference: 'I am fond of historical analogies, but not that fond.'"

Neither are we, quite frankly. Netanyahu's Thumoeidetic ambitions are well-known and particularly cloying as they smack of blatant opportunism. Ahmedinejad's ratcheting up of the rhetoric now, even as the Democrats in Congress are trying to apply brakes to Iran War Talk (For further reference, see: Joshua Muravchic), are immensely distressing, especially considering it all in the light of Seymour Hirsch's meticulously researched New Yorker Essay. Is this all, however, "tough talk" in order to force a diplomatic resolution from Persia (The Corsair pours himself a St. Emillion Chateau Monbousquet 1998)?

This weekend Ahmedinejad, clearly relishing his role as King of all Shi'ites, likened Iran to a train that has thrown away the brakes and is in a state of constant forward motion. That is dispiriting talk to say the least, one that almost conjures, perhaps, in the sensitive mind the dynamism of the swastica. And now, Netanyahu, who is, quite frankly, far too hard right-wing and disgustingly opportunistic for my tastes (for further reference: see the opportunistic politicization of what historians of the future will call Sharon's Noble Gaza Withdrawal). But Ohlmert is damaged beyond salvation, and that is not including the growing corruption charges that threatens to erode the platform very he stands on beyond repair. Let's face it: The Kadima Party was Ariel Sharon, a cult of personality; and the Israel-Hezbollah War "tie" -- the state of Israel's first military stalemmate (hostilities ceased by order of the United Nations Security Council 1701), and, no doubt, existentially distressing -- all but finished Ohlmert politically. It just hasn't registered with him yet.

Where are the voices of Moderation? What of a return of Ehud Barak, which we have been hearing about for some time. He would be a perfect ideological counterbalance to Netanyahu.

Barak, while very ambitious, has the military credentials to challenge Netanyahufrom the Center. We need Centrist thinking in Tel Aviv right now, not the further ratcheting of tensions from the reactionary Right. Prince Bandar and the Sunni Kingdoms are already on board from the looks of the flawed-but-possibly-useful Mecca Accords. Ohlmert is useless as he has little if any domestic support. But Ehud Barak (if he were elected), by virtue of his military record, might be able make a solid deal with the Sunni Kingdoms and domestically convince the long suffering israeli people. Possibly. But what to do about Netanyahu? Also, from Phil Zabriskie of the Time Magazine blog:

"What to do about Iran? A huge issue in Israel, it was taken up this morning by former Prime Minister and current Knesset Member Benjamin Netanyahu at a briefing he gave for diplomats and journalists. Netanyahu is known as a hardliner. He leads the opposition against Ehud Olmert and his own ambitions of being Prime Minister again one day are plain to see. He has friends in high places in Washington. All of that, and the number of ambassadors who answered his call this morning indicate that his thoughts on the matter are not irrelevant.

"With great conviction, Netanyahu asserted that Iran was the greatest threat to security in the world today, akin to Hitler in 1938 but more dangerous because of its desire to attain and, he said, use nuclear weapons. He implied the views and statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were representative of the entire Iranian political establishment, which is questionable given the indications of discontent with him at street level and the amongst the ruling Ayatollahs. He said the Iran issue had to be addressed before an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be reached, because a nuclear-armed Iran could undermine any deal made, which sounds somewhat like an excuse for not trying. He elided the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran with the threat of a nuclear-armed al Qaeda, using them interchangeably to make his points, speaking as if they were in the same camps."

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