Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington was accompanied by futile attempts to accurately determine, in mathematical terms, how well he would be able to team up with U.S. President Barack Obama on stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, people who believe themselves to be “in the know” as well as real commentators all tried to glean from Netanyahu’s stirring address to AIPAC some hint as to what was agreed upon, or not, during his private meeting with Obama. But the tools used to measure success are fundamentally different than the ones used to measure failure.
A meeting – be it the ninth such meeting – between the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister is not the kind of event that can, in one fell swoop, bring “relief and deliverance” like in the Book of Esther (a copy of which, 'incidentally,' was given to the White House as a gift). A meeting is just another step in the ongoing process of formulating policy. Israel can congratulate itself for the diplomatic achievement of situating the Iranian nuclear issue at the forefront of the international agenda, conveniently marginalizing the issue of the stalled negotiations with the Palestinians.
This diplomatic achievement stemmed from an understanding among European nations that a nuclear Iran would pose a real danger to humanity. Even the Arab world is trending toward this understanding, even if only as a vague notion. The achievement was crowned by its understanding in America, an understanding, and agreement, which was not a given.
Obama could have resisted Israeli pressure and said that the nuclearization of the ayatollah regime would be resolved in the framework of a new global agreement, a grand bargain, that would replace the withering Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He didn’t say that.
Not everyone in the American elite sees things this way, just as contention has begun emerging among Israel’s top echelon. But those at the helm of both nations agree on the main thesis: that Iran must not be allowed to gain nuclear weapons. The only dispute surrounds the methods of preventing it, and at this point, the resources at Jerusalem’s disposal are more limited, and can thus be used only within a shorter time frame than the resources at Washington’s disposal.
Two remarks in Netanyahu’s speech can help explain the sense of urgency that characterized his address. One was the fear of people who refuse to look the truth in the eye in an effort to avoid the implications that lie therein. To illustrate his point, Netanyahu mentioned the duck test (if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck). The other remark was the mention of the Holocaust. During those terrible years, the leaders of American Jewry, with Rabbi Stephen Wise at the helm, failed to measure up to the standard set by Mordechai in the Book of Esther. They let then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt argue that the American public would not take kindly to the risking of American lives in order to bomb Auschwitz.
It would appear that Netanyahu was contradicting himself. On the one hand he does not oppose American efforts to conduct dialogue with Iran, but on the other hand he insists on maintaining Israel’s discretion to act in self defense as it sees fit. This means that Israel will likely have to attack Iran militarily before the Americans go to the polls in November, driving oil prices up and diminishing Obama’s chances of re-election. The logical conclusion is that Israel has already decided on the general direction it is headed in. “I have yet to decide,” Netanyahu has said – not because anyone knows where his allies in America and Europe are headed, but because a perplexed world is in the midst of the biggest poker game since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis – and the winner has not yet been declared.