It’s hard to figure out what Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meant when he told his Cabinet on Sunday that in his upcoming visit to the White House, he intends to present U.S. President Joe Biden with an “orderly plan that we have formulated in the past two months to curb the Iranians, both in the nuclear sphere and vis-à-vis regional aggression.”
After all, Israel has been leading the battle against the regime in Tehran for decades, ever since it was taken over by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. This fight hasn’t been merely rhetorical, though former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu devoted much of his career articulating, verbally and in print, the dangers that a nuclear Iran would pose to the Middle East and the rest of the world.
He understood, as Bennett surely does, that since the Jewish state is a key target of the mullahs’ genocidal aims against the “infidels,” Israel has had no choice but to try to persuade other countries to wake up to the threat—or go it alone.
Some American administrations have recognized this more than others; the same applies to different constellations of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
It hasn’t been a question of accepting Israel’s warnings about Iran. Rather, it’s been an issue of how best to keep the Islamic Republic’s race for the A-bomb in check.
Left-wing politicians and pundits from both the “Great Satan” (America) and the “Small Satan” (Israel), tend to believe that the only way to do this is through a deal. Those on the right think that negotiating with a state sponsor of global terrorism is as pointless as doing so with its proxies, which happily dispatch “martyrs” to undertake the up-close-and-personal dirty work. You know, the kind that enables them to watch the blood and gore that they extract from their victims.
When Biden’s immediate predecessor and former boss, President Barack Obama, entered the picture, Israel was in trouble. Fans of the “hope and change” candidate on either side of the ocean would come very quickly to attribute the soured relations between Washington and Jerusalem to Netanyahu.
They were wrong to do so.
Indeed, it wasn’t Bibi who caused the rift. It was Obama who made no bones about wanting to loosen traditional American ties with Israel. As comedian Jay Leno quipped in 2014: “Obama knows just how unbreakable the U.S.-Israel bond is, since he’s been trying to break it for years.”
Leno may have been joking, but Obama’s announcement to a select group of Jewish leaders in July 2009 was no laughing matter.
“Look at the past eight years,” said Obama, referring to the presidency of George W. Bush. “During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”
Never mind that just the opposite happened after Obama completed his two terms, and Donald Trump was elected to succeed him.
Forget about the Abraham Accords, which came about precisely as a result of the Trump administration’s tough stance towards Iran and warm embrace of Israel. Leave aside hindsight for a moment and focus only on Obama’s worldview, which included a deep conviction that America was not superior to any other country, and that it was his job to “lead from behind” in the pursuit of peace and stability.
The chaos that ensued at home and abroad is well-documented, as are Netanyahu’s repeated warnings against an agreement with the mullahs that would not only enable them to keep their centrifuges spinning, but would be useless where halting their other nefarious activities around the world was concerned.
In a last-ditch effort to get this point across ahead of the signing of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Netanyahu—at the invitation of then-House Speaker John Boehner—addressed a joint session of Congress on March 3, 2015. Obama was so furious about it that he didn’t attend. Other members of the Democratic Party also boycotted the event.
In other words, any “wedge” between the aisles on Capitol Hill was already there, and it stemmed in this case from Tehran, not Jerusalem. The ayatollahs seemed to grasp this better than the Israeli and American politicians bent on blaming Bibi.
Ironically, Netanyahu won a landslide electoral victory 12 days later despite the polls and pontifications of his detractors that his speech, as well as the chutzpah that it took for him to deliver it against Obama’s wishes, was going to cost him dearly in the form of a humiliating defeat.
What his oratory didn’t succeed in doing, however, was to alter the process leading up to July 15—a mere two-and-half-months later—when the JCPOA became a done deal; a disastrous one, to boot.
Adding credence to Netanyahu’s unheeded admonitions, within months, Iran test-fired long-range rockets—one of which had the Hebrew message “Israel must be wiped out” etched on its frame. Soon after that, its military used a Star of David as a target for testing a medium-range ballistic missile.
Until Trump took the reins in the Oval Office, Netanyahu was forced to fly solo, so to speak. This involved conducting covert operations against Iranian facilities through cyber and other attacks within the Islamic Republic itself and elsewhere, such as Syria.
It was one such secret mission—the Mossad theft of a trove of nuclear documents from a warehouse in Tehran—that provided Trump with the ultimate concrete evidence of Iranian violations of the JCPOA. On that basis, he ripped up the deal.
Meanwhile, he and Netanyahu managed to forge a coalition of anti-Iran Arab states that resulted in the above-mentioned Abraham Accords between Israel and previously hostile neighboring nations.
Since then, much has transpired to upstage the monumental achievement. In swift succession, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged; Trump was replaced by Biden; and Bennett unseated Netanyahu.
Bennett used to know—and not only deep down—that the Democrats have been growing more radical with each passing year, culminating in the party’s constant catering to its radical wing.
As soon as he was inaugurated, however, he began to talk like his foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who is scheduled to rotate with him in two years for the premiership. Unlike Bennett, Lapid has always held that enemies need to be negotiated with to keep them at bay. He’s also been a firm believer that Netanyahu damaged U.S.-Israel relations.
Neither position is true, as the “old Bennett” would have been the first to attest.
It’s hard to tell, then, how he’s able even to entertain the fantasy that his meeting with Biden on Thursday will bear any fruit other than a photo op. There’s nothing he can say about Iran that the U.S. president hasn’t heard and rejected before, when Netanyahu uttered them.
More importantly, Bennett is going to have to face the reality that he can’t have it both ways. Remaining true to Israeli interests and building imaginary “bridges” with an administration seeking to return to the JCPOA—while pushing for harmful policies in relation to the Palestinians—is simply a contradiction in terms.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”