If a Mideast war breaks out anytime soon, Israel’s critics will likely accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wagging the dog. They’ll be wrong.
As Netanyahu makes the rounds in Washington and New York this week, his aides are keeping him abreast of the corruption investigations against him back home. Police have already recommended a criminal indictment against the premier.
Yet Bibi appeared unruffled — beaming Monday next to his old buddy, President Trump; basking in the admiration of AIPAC conventioneers Tuesday; scheduling a visit to the United Nations, Thursday.
In all, he displayed a single-minded focus on a career-defining topic. “Our greatest challenge,” he said at the White House Monday, is “encapsulated in one word: Iran.”
Beyond Bibi’s (and Trump’s) constant push to do away with, or at least repair, Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, Iran is becoming an ever-present menace on Israel’s borders. With up to 100,000 missiles stationed in Lebanon’s Hezbollah-land, the Revolutionary Guard’s growing presence in Syria and Tehran’s influence in Gaza, Iranians and their proxies can now attack Israel from three fronts.
Shaken after a visit to Israel, Sen. Lindsey Graham told CBS on Sunday, “I would focus on containing Iran rather than pushing a peace process that is broken.” He warned, “If we don’t come up with a strategy against Iran, we’re going to make Israel go to war here pretty soon.”
The power vacuum into which Iran has stepped was opened by a decade-long American withdrawal from the Mideast. As Ofer Shelah, the ranking member of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, told me recently, “America’s absence in the region is the biggest threat we face.”
Shelah, of the opposition Yesh Atid party, notes that when Israel’s strongest ally is a nonfactor in Syria and Yemen, or in the peace process with the Palestinians, other, more cynical players — Russia, Sunni terrorists, Iran — rush in.
It’s not all bad news for Israel. With 4.4 percent GDP growth, its economy is stronger than ever. Despite its enemies’ constant calls to boycott the Jewish state, Israel marked the highest number of tourists in its history last year. High-tech titans are still investing in the “silicon wadi.” Countries cool to Israel in the past — most notably India — are warming up to it. Arab leaders quietly see it as an ally.
And Guatemala announced it’s following Trump’s lead and relocating its embassy to Jerusalem in May.
Yet, despite a considerable military edge over its enemies, Israel is under threat.
Tehran constantly vows to do away with the Jewish state. Iran’s growing arsenal on Israel’s borders might overwhelm its advanced missile defenses.
So the next war, as Graham learned last week, will be brutal. The Israelis will likely absorb more civilian casualties in the first hour than in several entire past wars.
They’ll also be forced to attack missile batteries that Hezbollah deliberately positions among Lebanon’s civilians. The chorus of global condemnation of Israel’s war tactics will be deafening.
And surely, if that next blood-letting starts, like the successful 1967 Six-Day War, in a life-saving preemptive strike, critics will say Netanyahu launched a war of choice to distract from his legal troubles.
It’s true that, after nine long years in office (and three years in the 1990s) the investigators may finally catch up to Netanyahu. True, too, that Bibi and his hordes of fans unhealthily believe only he can lead Israel. Yet nothing in his career indicates Netanyahu has any desire for unnecessary war.
For decades he’s warned about missiles the United Nations never sees in Lebanon. He’s been telling anyone who’ll listen that Iran and its proxy militias can’t remain in Syria after ISIS’s defeat. And, of course, Netanyahu famously rails against Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, soon to be globally kosherized if the nuclear deal remains in place.
His warnings fell on deaf ears as Barack Obama chased a legacy. Trump is yet to devise a coherent Mideast strategy. Russia only sees its own interests. Europe couldn’t care less, and while Arab leaders quietly urge Israel to hit Iran while it’s still feasible, they’ll condemn it once it does.
America should know better. Let Israel’s justice system do its thing. Meanwhile, we must end our Mediterranean vacation from history.