“Developing Israel's strength is this Government's main issue.”
This was the final sentence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech on Sunday after the weekly Cabinet meeting:
We have received a reminder about what kind of a neighborhood we live in. We heard the Iranian ruler's remarks about the elimination of Israel. We saw the Syrian army massacre its own people. We have seen bloody events in our region. Various leaders have no moral compunctions about killing their neighbors and their own people alike.
In such a region, the only thing that ensures our existence, security and prosperity is our strength. We are obligated to continue to develop the military, economic and social strength of the State of Israel. This is also the only guarantee for the existence of peace and the only defense for Israel should the peace unravel.
But, if you're short of time, you only need a one-word translation for "strength": Iran.
Netanyahu's political world is one in which Iran and its proxies are determined to “wipe Israel off the map” with its "‘certainly-nuclear-going" agenda, while its ally Syria oppresses its people. In the simple opposition of good and evil, Israel’s “existence, security and prosperity” must come from a "strength" where the political frontiers are “successfully” developed.
Nothing new. But what is distinctive about Netanyahu's invocation of the “Iranian threat” now?
This is not just a tactical manoeuvre against Kadima, the rival to Netayahu's party Likud, ahead of elections. It is also the device to bypass serious and difficult negotiations, especially on the "peace process" with the Palestinians.
The efforts of the Quartet (United Nations, USA, Russia, European Union) have already proved futile, with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s latest approach to Israel yielding nothig. While the unity government deal is offiering possibiities for Palestine's Hamas and Fatah, Netanyahu made it clear on Monday: “If [Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud] Abbas continues, he will abandon the path of peace!”
Netanyahu's avoidance of peace talks with the Palestinians, preparing the public for a “Likud the Saviour”, was supported by his deputy, Moshe Ya’alon. In a wide-ranging threat declaration, Ya'alon portrayed a Tehran with 10,000-kilometre (6200-mile) missiles threatening the US, as Iran worked with drug cartels in Mexico to carry out plots inside America.
Using the failure of the UN Security Council to reach agreement on Syria, Ya’alon continued with language reminiscent of George W. Bush in 2002: “There could be different developments in such a situation, some of which could be positive as far as Israel is concerned, like a fissure in the Tehran-Damascus-Beirut-Hamas axis of evil.”
In response to Ya’alon, President Obama made it clear on Sunday that any military intervention in Iran is not on the table now. He said there was no evidence that Iran has the "intentions or capabilities" to wage attacks on US soil and continued: “I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do. I think they, like us, believe that Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program.”
While Obama called the Israeli rhetorical bet, Israeli Foregn Minister Avigdor Lieberman was meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The post-discussion speeches yielded little, however. Clinton referred to America's "unshakable commitment" to Israel and Lieberman thanked Clinton for Washington's resolute stand on the Iranian issue.
More interesting is the possible challenge to Netanyahu from the unity deal between Fatah and Hamas. Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, said that the Palestinian agreement is more than welcome as long as Hamas is ready to accept the Quartet’s conditions --- renouncing violence, honouring previous agreements and recognizing the State of Israel. On Tuesday,, Hamas agreed to cede power to Abbas as both Prime Minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority during the interim government period.
Which means that, more than ever, Benjamin Netanyahu might need "strength" and Iran.