Widely reported was this conversation at the G-20 summit in Cannes, not meant to be heard but for a slip-up of the great men close to an open microphone.
Nicolas Sarkozy, "I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar."
Barack Obama, "You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day."
Israelis not in the Prime Minister's camp couple these revelations with Angela Merkel's repeated frustration with Netanyahu. Her outburst at news of additional construction in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank was something like, I can't believe a word he says.
Another Israeli response was that of the television personality who said, most likely with tongue in cheek, that Obama's comments reflected Netanyahu's success in reaching the White House. Several commentators talked about the propensity of politicians everywhere to promise the voters more than they deliver. One cited former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, For the sake of the Land of Israel, it is permissible to lie. Also heard was the reservation that lying to voters during a political campaign , or to fellow politicians in one's own country is to be expected, but lying repeatedly to leaders of important countries is something else.
While it is doubtful that Benyamin Netanyahu would win a competition to select the ideal Israeli, he is currently riding a wave of increased political support. His current peak in the polls may be due largely to the release of Gilad Shalit, but it also has something to do with his resisting a peace process with Palestinians widely viewed as unwilling or unable to compromise.
Responses here and elsewhere to the latest indications of Netanyahu's reputation teaches us what we should already have known about the role of personalities in politics. Not only is Netanyahu strong at home, but the recent comments about him are also serving the opponents of those who have made them. John McCain said that he has a strong and positive relationship with Benyamin Netanyahu, and that Obama's comments about him confirm the Administration's negative attitude toward Israel. Mitt Romney's line that the Administration would throw Israel under the bus will get attention from conservative Republicans and Jews wavering from their Democratic loyalties.
Competing with the reliability of Israel's Prime Minister is news about the report on Iran's nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israelis are claiming that we've been telling you that for years. Analysts are saying that greater powers must increase their sanctions against Iran substantially. And if not, the ongoing discussion in Israel may tilt in favor of a military attack.
Indications are that Israeli who currently have the authority to decide such things have not yet decided to attack. One can hear experts dismiss the prospect as unlikely to do more than postpone the inevitable, and to assure a costly counter-attack.
We hear that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu favor a pre-emptive attack. Yesterday Barak said that it is "delusional" to claim that Israel has decided to attack, but he also criticized as "fear mongering" those who claim that Israel faces a prospect of massive casualties in such an event.
"Let's assume we get to war against our will. . . There will not be 100,000 dead, not 10,000 dead and not 1,000 dead. And Israel will not be destroyed. There's no way today to prevent certain damage. It's not pleasant on the home front . . . [but] if everyone just goes into their homes, there will not be 500 dead, either." http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/barak-plays-down-cost-of-possible-israeli-strike-on-iran/2011/11/08/gIQAZwPr0M_story.html
The Prime Minister's problematic personal reputation--among Israelis as well as world leaders--is one of the factors having to be considered in the presence of ongoing discussions in Israel and elsewhere. Also in the background is the record of Israeli intelligence having promoted the view during the Bush Administration that Saddam Hussein was intent on developing weapons of mass destruction.
Crystal balls are notoriously cloudy. Likewise assessments about politics in a feisty place like Israel, and even more so among governments where ongoing national interests interact with fluid issues in local politics, including the unpredictability of personalities facing elections.
We ponder the prospect of nuclear weapons under the control of Iranians whose views about Israel rival those of the Nazis a generation ago. While Mutual Assured Destruction worked during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, and so far in the cases of India, Pakistan, and North Korea, the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of Shiite enthusiasts of suicide is something else.
There may be Jewish genes that have prepared us to accept uncertainty, or it may only be Jewish history that has taught the same lesson. Uncertainty is part of us, but we do not have to like it.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 08, 2011 09:47 PM