U.S. Politicians Should Focus On Tehran, Netanyahu Says
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
NEW YORK – Benjamin Netanyahu, as part of an American tour repositioning himself for a return to the Israeli premiership, told an audience in New York yesterday that President Bush is preparing to ditch the United Nations to take on Iran alone and that American politicians of all parties would do well to stop squabbling about Iraq and join the president in focusing on threat from Tehran.
The former prime minister, who leads the right of center Likud Party in opposition to the current government, went on to tell lunch guests of the Hudson Institute that another war between Hezbollah and Israel is inevitable and that a shift in Israeli politics is about to take place with his return to power and a return to the principles that guided thinking in Jerusalem until the Oslo Accords.
Largely ignored in the coverage of Mr. Bush’s speech Tuesday on the war on terror, Mr. Netanyahu told his audience more than once, was Mr. Bush’s statement that “the world’s free nations will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.” Not that the “United Nations won’t allow,” said Mr. Netanyahu, but that the “free nations” of the world won’t allow. Mr. Netanyahu called it a sign that on the Iranian problem the president was preparing to stop working through the United Nations and instead work with whoever would join him.
Unfortunately, said Mr. Netanyahu, Britain and America, along with Israel and Iran, are the only countries at the moment that understand what is at stake if Iran acquires the bomb. Meantime, “the Europeans …” Mr. Netanyahu trailed off, struggling to find the right word, at which point members of the audience interjected with inaudible, although apparently uncomplimentary, suggestions. “I’m trying to be diplomatic,” Mr. Netanyahu replied before saying, “for the sake of mankind,” Iran couldn’t be permitted to have a nuclear weapon.
Israel’s one-time ambassador to the United Nations urged Americans of all political persuasions to “not get caught up” arguing about Iraq. Mr. Netanyahu dismissed the argument that fears of Iranian plans for WMD might be false in the way that predictions on Iraq have come under question. Mr. Netanyahu said Israel had told America that claims about Iraq’s weapons were based on “conjecture,” while with Iran “we’re not guessing. We know.”
Americans should be focusing on Iran, Mr. Netanyahu said, because while Iran is now focusing its attention on Israel through its proxy terrorist organization, Hezbollah, “Israel is merely the first step.” There’s a reason, he reminded the audience, that Israel is only called the “little Satan.” No guessing who is next said Mr. Netanyahu.
Mr. Netanyahu’s spoke of what he would do “when prime minister” – or “if” as he laughingly (while winking) had to correct himself. While Mr. Netanyahu refused to criticize Prime Minister Olmert, he predicted the collapse of Mr. Olmert’s political party, Kadima. The way to defeat Hezbollah “next time” – Mr. Netanyahu said as a matter of fact that another war was coming – is to act quickly and decisively.
Anyone who thinks Israel’s military can’t defeat “a few hundred armed Iranian proxies” fundamentally underestimates the capability of Israel’s military, Mr. Netanyahu said. The time to act after being attacked is straight away – when world opinion, “even” the Europeans and most Arab nations, is outside. A quick victory is needed to win the diplomatic war as well.
Mr. Netanyahu, the son of a distinguished historian, used sweeping historical references throughout his remarks. He told of how, when questioned in London about the “proportionality” of Israel’s response in Lebanon, he told British audiences that the number of rockets Hezbollah fired at Israel was 4,000, the same number as the Germans fired at London during the Second World War. Britain’s response to the 4,000 rockets led to the death of hundreds of thousands of German civilians. This is not, he hastened to add, to say that Winston Churchill was wrong – but to put Israel’s actions in context. “That quickly silenced them,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
Responding to a question asking whether the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s created Hezbollah, Mr. Netanyahu said that “the Israeli occupation of London doesn’t exist and yet you have militant Islam there,” as well as in Rotterdam and in other places across the globe where Israeli troops have never visited. Hezbollah is not a creation of Israel, he said. Israel’s occupation may have been used as a pretext by Hezbollah, but would have happened anyway – it’s part of the rise of radical Islam.
What really encouraged Hezbollah’s rise, Mr. Netanyahu said, was the manner of Israel’s withdrawal – without victory or a peace agreement. The sight of Israeli troops leaving and Hezbollah terrorists taking their place while celebrating encouraged Palestinian Arab terrorists to hope for the same. To defeat “Militant Islam,” Mr. Netanyahu said, one “must deprive it of victory.” Every time you retreat, every time terrorists gain victory, that’s when they recruit. “Power attracts, weakness repeals,” he said. “Victory attracts, defeat repulses.”
Mr. Netanyahu told the gathering at the Four Seasons that Prime Minister Olmert’s Kadima party was built on the policy of unilateral withdrawals – a premise that is now dead. And so, went his implication, is the party and Mr. Olmert’s premiership. The policy of unilateral withdrawals started with the Oslo Accords. He spoke of how, from Israel’s founding until then, Israel’s military and her relations with her Arab neighbors had been based on Vladimir Jabotinsky’s concept of the “Iron Wall.”
This was a reference to a phrase used by the right of center Zionist, who held that only when the Arabs became convinced that they couldn’t destroy Israel – with every attack on Israel met by an “iron wall” – would peace follow. If Israel’s deterrence and response to attack was so strong the Arab’s found themselves banging themselves against an “Iron Wall,” they’d realize the futility of trying to destroy Israel and seek peace. The “Iron Wall” principle, said Mr. Netanyahu, led to peace with Egypt and Jordan. They attacked Israel, were soundly defeated, and sued for peace.
The Oslo Accords abandoned the “Iron Wall” strategy, said Mr. Netanyahu, and Israel’s leaders decided instead to “build a bridge through the wall.” The Palestinian Arabs responded, as Jabotinsky had warned, with terrorism. But instead of reverting back to the “Iron Wall,” Israel’s leaders instead offered “more freebies” to the terrorists – unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza. “When prime minister,” Netanyahu said he’d return Israel to the “Iron Wall” guiding principle. Mr. Netanyahu didn’t mention that he oversaw the Israeli withdrawal from the city of Hebron.
The second half of Mr. Netanyahu’s case for his return to the premiership was his management of the economy, although he stressed more than once that he’d only take the finance portfolio again if it was with the premiership as well. As finance minister, Mr. Netanyahu told the audience, he introduced painful free market reforms that revitalized Israel’s economy. Mr. Netanyahu described globalization as a “God-send” for Israel and “for everyone.” The first half of the year saw Israel’s economy growing at 6%, with low inflation and falling unemployment. The economy endured the war thanks to Mr. Netanyahu’s reforms, Mr. Netanyahu said, and remains the fastest growing developing economy.