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Bibi’s Bold Message By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Israeli papers carried reports on Monday (here, for instance) about an article in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat claiming Egypt was warning Hamas to strike a deal with Israel before Binyamin Netanyahu forms the next government. Otherwise, the Egyptian officials are supposed to have said, Hamas stands to “lose everything.”

Rumors were flying about a ceasefire of a year to a year and a half in which Israel would open the crossings to Gaza and free 1,000 Hamas prisoners in return for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel’s current leaders Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni are said to be anxious to conclude a deal for Shalit before the February 10 elections.

If so, they’re badly miscalculating. Israelis want Shalit freed and are perturbed that Operation Cast Lead didn’t secure that result. The renewed terror puts the government’s claims about restored Israei deterrence in doubt as well.

Clearly Olmert, Barak, and Livni can’t boast that the war was a resounding success, gravely weakening Hamas, and then agree to abject terms of 1,000 terrorists for one Israeli soldier. Israelis would rejoice to see Shalit back home in any case—then send Livni and Barak (with Olmert finished in any case) deeper into political defeat.

That being what Egypt is reportedly warning Hamas about: the next Israeli government won’t be so pliant. Likud Member of Knesset and close Netanyahu ally Yuval Steinitz has called to “free Shalit by our own hands.” After pounding Hamas, a terrorist organization with 20,000 fighters, Israel, a developed country with a powerful army, shouldn’t have to go begging to it. It’s because of such lack of backbone that the current government is on the way out.

But if Egypt views Netanyahu as a sort of bad boy, Western foreign establishments do too—from a different angle. President Barack Obama’s hasty dispatch to Israel of Middle East envoy and veteran peace-processor George Mitchell has sowed speculation that the aim is to get photo-ops particularly with Livni and Barak—Netanyahu’s prime-ministerial contestants—and convey to the Israeli public that it’s with these leaders that Obama can work.

Livni—much closer to Netanyahu in the polls than Barak—is herself pushing that line, warning that Washington will see a Netanyahu-led government as a “peace refuser” and be at loggerheads with it. Again, it’s a miscalculation, perhaps desperate; most Israelis aren’t in the mood to hear that Israel should be bending its will to a U.S. administration that may be afflicted with quick-fix visions for the Middle East.

In any case, Netanyahu, with all this attention converging on him, also on Monday penned an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. Bibi is not just a commentator but a candidate running for office in a country often at the eye of the storm, and his op-ed is meant to send signals. Here is an attempt to decode them:

“In foreign policy, Obama faces a wide array of difficult decisions, from how to responsibly withdraw from Iraq to how to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Bibi to Obama administration: I am not an opponent of the latter idea or an obstacle to it. Nor, though, am I in a rush; I believe peace can be advanced, incrementally and carefully, not achieved all at once.

“But…one issue will prove more important to Obama’s presidency than all others: Will his administration succeed in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?”

Bibi to Obama administration: I have, however, a strategic focus and am much more concerned about a much larger issue.

“A nuclear-armed Iran will change the world as we know it. It will pose a direct existential threat to Israel…. Iran will move quickly to dominate the world’s oil supplies and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty will be rendered meaningless.

“I am convinced that Obama recognizes these dangers. When he visited Jerusalem last summer, he said that the United States cannot afford a nuclear-armed Iran. I believe that Obama is working from his first day in office to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Bibi to Obama administration and world: I am not necessarily convinced of these things, otherwise I would not be drawing attention to them. However, even if Iran is not Obama’s first priority, it is my first priority, and that is something that will not change.

“[Israel’s] security challenges are…daunting. Hamas remains in power and will try to rearm itself with an even more deadly arsenal.”

Bibi to world: I don’t believe Operation Cast Lead came anywhere near defeating or neutralizing Hamas. I am realistic about the danger Hamas continues to pose.

“Hizbullah has de facto control over Lebanon and has tripled its lethal capacity.”

Bibi to world: Ditto for the Second Lebanon War. It didn’t achieve much and I am realistic about the danger Hizbullah continues to pose.

“And advancing peace with moderate Palestinians is possible, but must be done in a way that does not sacrifice Israel’s security interests.”

Bibi to Obama administration: Again, I don’t dismiss this idea, but I’m going to be real careful about it and will not be pushed into moves I deem harmful to Israel.

“Above all else, the top priority of the next government of Israel will be to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. Iran is a regime openly pledged to our destruction, and its threats must never be dismissed lightly. Israel must immediately redouble its efforts to work with the United States and other allies to neutralize this threat.”

Bibi to Obama administration and Europeans: If you’re really intending to do something about it, I will work with you against the Iranian threat. If you’re not, take note: Israel will go it alone.

To sum up, Netanyahu’s advent evokes rational fears in those who wish Israel ill and irrational enmity in those purporting to wish it well. Netanyahu, aware of the various perceptions, wants it to be known that he is above all an Israeli nationalist concerned about his country’s survival. After three years and more of weak, obsequious leadership, Israelis—with their mixed feelings about his earlier tenure at the helm—are ready to put him there again.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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