The description of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in The New York Times as "a leader willing to risk political isolation" should include a full disclosure: The important American newspaper and Netanyahu have a long history. Netanyahu ridiculed The New York Times from the podium at the United Nations General Assembly, when he quoted an article published by the paper that dripped with praise for the American diplomacy that once convinced North Korea not to produce nuclear weapons. Time passed and the poor, isolated, disadvantaged regime in Pyongyang allowed itself to disregard its obligations and tested a nuclear device.
Why would a weak country allow itself to act in such a way that even Soviet Russia would have never dared to act? In 1948, the USSR attacked Berlin, but the Americans defended the city by providing it with goods via airlift. For 11 months, the Soviets didn't dare take down even one plane. The difference between these two events does not have to do with technology or weapons, but with trustworthiness. The Russians feared U.S. President Harry Truman. The North Koreans see the American presidents of the 21st century as paper tigers.
The year 2013 is not 1948. Many in the U.S. and in Europe are prepared to surrender, to give up. To celebrate a diplomatic agreement and to rush to roll back the sanctions on Tehran, and at the end of the day, to accept the creation of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Of course, U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a forceful speech from time to time, saying he will not let the ayatollahs arm themselves with nuclear weapons, as does his French counterpart -- but the overall trend is clear: reducing the sanctions using "salami tactics," slice by slice.
In the last round, Israel had the opportunity to threaten a military response in a covert but concrete way, and the world slapped Iran with painful sanctions. Not willingly, but in what seemed to the leaders of the world to be a reasonable alternative to an Israeli attack. I do not know if Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak were serious about their intentions. I also have not formulated an opinion on what is the right thing to do, unlike MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) who supported an attack and still holds that opinion. Yet there is no doubt that in their hinting of the military option, Barak and Netanyahu arrived at significant political achievements that weighed heavily on Tehran.
The empty words of former Mossad head Meir Dagan, former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, and to a lesser extent former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, weakened not Netanyahu and Barak's very intention to attack -- which it is possible did not exist -- but Israel's capacity to threaten. The believability of Israel's military option diminished following their chatter. Yet the sanctions slowly did their job, causing the Iranians to exchange former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rude manner with current President Hasan Rouhani's sweet talk.
Now, the West is prepared to begin negotiations with Iran, and the media is flooded with trial balloons, and also in my opinion, Netanyahu will not achieve his full objective, but -- in the best-case scenario -- will see the world hold Iran back from nuclear weapons capability for two to three years, as was published here following his speech at the U.N. And even for this compromise, he must draw a tough and demanding line at this stage.
For Israel and for the whole world, an internationally isolated Netanyahu and no Iranian bomb is better than him becoming the West's favorite while they stockpile nuclear warheads in Tehran.