Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (at left of lectern)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (at left of lectern)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (at left of lectern)

By Larry Gordon

Observing Bibi Netanyahu up close this week as he addressed 14,000 delegates at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference was an exhilarating experience. The masses packed into the main room at the Washington Convention Center at 7:30 on Tuesday morning to listen to a few speakers, including U.S. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and then the prime minister.

It was indeed rousing, important, and unforgettable. On Monday, I listened intently to remarks from Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain of Arizona. So let me put it this way: now that I am back at my desk in New York. Menendez and McCain get it, Kerry and Obama do not–and therein lies the challenges and obstacles that all of us supporters of Israel of good faith have to deal with today in the here and now.

Listening to the speakers, it becomes evident where exactly the divide exists on the primary issues of the day–a nuclear Iran and peace with the Palestinians. On Iran, Menendez, a Democrat, was more forceful that Mr. Netanyahu. Why in the world would anyone think it was prudent to ease up sanctions on Iran when it was sanctions that brought them reluctantly to the negotiating table in the first place?

Now that Iran is playing games in the aftermath of the Obama administration’s loosening of some sanctions as a good-faith gesture to a country that would not know what good faith was if it fell on their heads, the world and Israel as well are faced with some difficult choices in the weeks and months ahead.

Menendez told the AIPAC audience that it was absurd to respond to the situation by saying that if Iran does not keep its promises then sanctions can always be intensified at that point. That is wrong and more than anything else demonstrates a lack of understanding on the president’s and the secretary’s part. The senator said that with the tools and instruments currently at Iran’s disposal, they can have a bomb in 60 days.

Increasing sanctions on the corrupt regime there would take six months to have any effect and would not be felt by the people for as long as a year. So Menendez is in favor of tougher sanctions now, as are Senator McCain and the government of Israel. Obama and Kerry just do not understand.

So the additional intrigue involved the fact that at present the Senate has 58 or 59 votes in favor of greater sanctions, a bill which if brought to him to sign, Mr. Obama said he would veto. The Senate needs 67 votes in order to override a presidential veto, and that is the very serious game that is currently being played.

Then there is that “table” that gets talked about fairly often. That’s the table with all the options on it that the president and Mr. Kerry are fond of referring to in the mantra of “no options being off the table.” That is a not-so-veiled threat to take military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities should the situation come to that. It’s an elusive option but nevertheless an option.

To make matters more complicated, according to Senator McCain, Mr. Obama has a reputation of being a president with a “feckless foreign policy.” His credibility suffered grievously when he warned Syria that a U.S. military response was imminent after Bashar Assad’s chemical-weapon murder of over 1,100 Syrians last year. And then this week with Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin making his move on Ukraine, all the president could do was freeze some Russian assets in U.S. banks and say that he might cancel his visit to Russia in June. That’s a demonstration of strength? That’s leadership?

The mullahs in Iran look at these international events and smirk about how elementary it is to run circles around Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry. And in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is probably thinking much the same thing. That is that a weak America is an ineffective America. And as a result this is what world leaders have to take into consideration, that we are dealing with a weak U.S. president–and that’s not good for anyone.

In his speech, Benjamin Netanyahu chided his listeners, saying they are mistaken if they think that Iran’s nuclear design are only being directed at Israel. He said that amongst other things Iran is continuing to build and perfect ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, that carry nuclear warheads. Iran’s missiles can already reach Tel Aviv, the prime minister said, adding that they are continuing to produce the missiles so that they can reach every American city from New York to Los Angeles.

Bibi said that he had no doubts about what the ideas and objectives of the devious dictators in Iran were. “It’s pretty simple and I’ve said it before,” the prime minister said. “If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck–in this case a nuclear duck.”

On the matter of peace with the Palestinians, both Kerry and Netanyahu struck one new similar theme. Both said that if real peace can be reached, the business opportunities that await Israel in the Arab world have exhilarating potential and would be unprecedented in scope.

But not so fast. On this matter, too, McCain and Menendez get it, Obama and Kerry just plain don’t. Just as they want to soften sanctions on Iran, they want to give the murderous inciters in the PA the benefit of the doubt as well. This time the version will be Israel making concessions, conceding to the creation of a 23rd Arab state, evacuating territory, extricating people from their homes in Judea and Samaria, and possibly dividing Jerusalem. All so that unreliable international double-crossers who never keep any agreement that they enter into can be given a free pass and another chance.

Menendez and McCain know who and what they are dealing with. Obama and Kerry either do not or just want or desperately need to preside over a foreign-policy success in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections to try to salvage a failed presidency and plummeting national approval numbers for the president.

Kerry’s remarks have a solidly pro-Israel tone. For example, he said and has said in the past that he has a 100% voting record on Israel and that therefore he can be trusted to do the right thing. That may be fine and good, but we also have to consider that these are not his policies, they are those of the president, and that–according to both McCain and Menendez–that policy is problematic.

The good news from this vantage point is that Palestinian spokespeople said in the aftermath of the Netanyahu speech at AIPAC that this was the official end to the negotiations. They explained that position by saying that Israel’s insistence on being recognized by them as the “Jewish state” was impossible for them to meet. It is important to look a bit beyond that rejectionist statement and understand it. And that position gets its strength from the sad fact that morally and intellectually the PA is aligned with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other assorted international terror organizations.

Netanyahu was brilliant and brought the crowd to their feet with great applause at least a dozen times. His presentation was the high point of three days of extensive as well as intensive lectures, sessions, and meetings. Israel is located in a tough neighborhood but is otherwise in a very good place. And he concluded his remarks by repeating, in both Hebrew and English, a section of Torah where Hashem implores the Jewish people as they are about to enter the ancient land of Israel, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

The moral drama of the reality on the ground in the Middle East is unfortunately surrounded by significant prejudice and dishonest political calculations that must be resisted. Netanyahu is the right man at the right time, and that is indeed something to cheer about. v

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