By Larry Gordon
Observing the sometimes intense back-and-forth between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu has me wondering whether these two important world leaders are kidding. Let’s be realistic about Iran. They have to prove themselves, and that can take years. Sure, Mr. Obama is way too open-minded, but he understands very well that the Iranian officials cannot be trusted and that lies and deception are part and parcel of everyday life in Tehran. That is, they lie and deceive in the same way that they breathe, eat, or sleep—it is just who they are.
So while the differences of opinion and approach are real, a better, more productive, and higher purpose could be served if these exchanges were choreographed to some degree. Maybe I’m a dreamer or just a hopeless optimist, but for the leaders of the U.S. and Israel to wear the diplomatic and political emotions on their sleeves is just shockingly ridiculous.
As you know, in this struggle to limit Iran’s access to nuclear weapons, Israel is aligned with some leading Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Even Turkey, a recent Israel antagonist, is now aligned with the Jewish state against the Iranians. So this whole international approach of being weak and going easy on the mullahs in Iran may have all been rehearsed to a great extent.
At least the Saudis have the sense to deny that they are coordinating strategy with Israel to prevent Iran from being able to go nuclear. The good news here is that, for a change, it is not just Israel on one side and the rest of the world on the other. The international dynamic at play here is dizzying. Does the Obama administration get it? Well, that’s a definite maybe.
There are apparently two distinct schools of thought here. One, interestingly enough, is held by the Israelis and the Saudis, and the other is held by the U.S., with countries like England, Germany, and Russia straddling the fence. On the surface, it seems that demonstrating a small amount of good faith to the Iranians makes sense. But it is only reasonable once you ascertain absolute good faith on the other side of the equation. And that is the difficult part here. There is a philosophy in the Muslim world that considers it legitimate to use overtures of peace and reconciliation as instruments of war and destruction. It is precisely on this point that the parties disagree.
Iran is reeling from the sanctions but also reluctant to forgo nuclear development. Mr. Obama says that it is worthwhile to loosen the knot slightly over the next half year, letting Iran breathe a little, while a final deal is arranged. Israel and the Saudis and others say no, Iran is about to go down for the count, and now is the time to tighten the noose so that Iran is forced out of the nuclear business. None of the parties are interested in a military confrontation. As President Obama said candidly last week, those types of things are expensive and a big mess. Once those conflagrations end, some kind of a solution needs to be negotiated. I can understand doing the negotiating before things get out of hand. But those things should not be done from a position of weakness.
I heard Naftali Bennett speak at a debate with other members of the Bayit HaYehudi party at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem last year. Then I met him again in S’derot, a few days later, during a Chanukah celebration at the yeshiva there. Both of those appearances were during last year’s election campaign in Israel. Then, on Monday night, I had the privilege to hear Bennett, now a member of Knesset and minister in the Israeli government, speak at the S’derot Yeshiva dinner. It was a chance to hear and absorb his words on vital issues of the day.
Bennett was in town for the yeshiva dinner but he also made the rounds in Washington, DC, to lobby senators and other officials on keeping the pressure on Iran and advocating that sanctions on Iran be increased, so that Iran’s belief in its right and its desire to become a dangerous nuclear power can finally be broken.
Earlier on Monday, Bennett was interviewed live on CNN by journalist Christiane Amanpour. Her first question to the Israeli economics minister was why he was opposed to a deal with Iran that, at the first stage, gets them to freeze their drive toward a nuclear weapon, with the ultimate goal of getting them to dismantle some of the work they have already done in their pursuit of such weaponry. Naftali Bennett makes a good and thoughtful impression. He wasn’t intimidated by Amanpour’s suggestion of his opposition to a deal in the slightest. His direct response to her was that the reality was the exact opposite of what she was suggesting. “I am not at all opposed to a deal with Iran,” Bennett said, “but it has to be the right deal.”
At the event on Monday night, Bennett spoke eloquently about the challenges that face Israel and all of us who support Israel. He said that today the singular greatest threat to Israel is not Iran, not Lebanon, and not Syria, and neither is it the Palestinians. MK Bennett said that the greatest threat faced by Israel today is the feeling amongst significant numbers in the country that Israel’s position is not right. He said that Israel’s enemies know that, and they are aware that if they can feed into that doubt, they will be able to weaken the Jewish state.
He added that Israel did not do as well as it could have during the 2006 Lebanon War, but not because the military was weak or because the strategy was misguided. He says that the operation under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went bad because Israel was uncertain about what the right thing was at the time. He adds that the problem, if any, in the military ranks today is that half of those in the IDF have never been to the Kotel and do not care to go.
“Israel belongs to the Jews because it says so in the Torah,” Naftali Bennett says. “We need to pour the Jewish neshamah into the body of Israel.” And he added that, back in 1948, when David Ben-Gurion was asked on what basis he thought he was right for declaring the state of Israel, Israel’s first prime minister said, “The Bible is our mandate.”
Earlier in the day on CNN, Bennett said in response to a question about the peace process that the idea or notion that Israel is an “occupier” is both untrue and misguided. He said, “It is not possible to be an occupier in your own land.” And while on the subject of the talks with the Palestinians, he raised two very salient points. The first is that today there are 700,000 people residing in the area that the media and the world in general likes to refer to as occupied territory. He added that even though those are realistic and even impressive numbers from an Israeli perspective, only 7% of the area commonly referred to as the West Bank has been developed; the rest is either empty and scattered Arab villages or towns.
Still, contrary to the rhetoric that emanates from Prime Minister Netanyahu, Bennett says that he does not see the advent of a Palestinian state as being doable. He says that even if a deal could be reached with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he only represents, at best, 40% of the Palestinian people. The rest—about 1.5 million—live in Hamas-ruled Gaza, and they reject any and all ideas related to reaching an agreement or accommodation with Israel.
Naftali Bennett, 41, is a refreshing voice of Israel’s future. He is intelligent, successful, and a communicator, which is imperative when you are articulating Israel’s position to a hostile world.
As he was speaking at the Yeshiva of S’derot dinner in Manhattan, Bennett concluded his remarks by saying that Israel has spent billions of dollars on its defense, including the very successful Iron Dome anti-missile technology that protects its cities. “Israel’s real Iron Dome,” he said, “is the study of Torah in places like S’derot and other yeshivas in the country.” v
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