"Anyone but King Bibi," is the sort of derisive comment you'll hear from a Tel Aviv resident in a bar after a couple of Goldstar lagers. But Israel's prime minister earned the nickname as praise after his United Nations appearance last week. Like him or not, Benjamin Netanyahu has proven effective at moving the ball down the court on the Iran issue. Even the extreme leftwing Haaretz complimented him for "one of his most convincing and effective performances."
It was a far cry from the Obama years when Netanyahu appeared to be "on the wrong side of history," a worn-out phrase favored by our ex-president, who could now use it to describe himself. As Netanyahu said: "When I spoke here three years ago Israel stood alone among the nations. Of the nearly 200 countries that sit in this hall, only Israel openly opposed the nuclear deal with Iran."
The difference this time is that Netanyahu has a 500-pound gorilla grinning behind him. On this issue America has Israel's back. Even as a candidate, Trump blasted the Iran deal as a sham. In May, he announced the United States was exiting the deal. In August, he re-imposed sanctions. Indeed, it's hard to imagine the United States could have done more to signal its support last week. "We are with Israel 100%," the president said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu Wednesday, a day after shredding Iran in a speech at the General Assembly in which he said Iran's leaders "sow chaos, death, and destruction" and "spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond."
National Security Adviser John Bolton got his shots in during a speech in New York, warning Iran of "hell to pay" if it defies America. "The days of impunity for Tehran and its enablers are over." Netanyahu also held warm meetings with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
It takes nothing away from the wisdom of Donald Trump and his team in seeing the Iran deal for what it is to credit Netanyahu. He made their job easy. His April 30 presentation exposing Iran's secret atomic archive gave Trump all the excuse he needed when he scrapped the deal a week later on May 8. That April 30 presentation will go down as one of those startling moments in Israel's history, revealing as it did an extraordinary Mossad operation, which could rightly be dubbed Entebbe II for its sheer audacity.
With the United States in his corner, Netanyahu turned his sights on Europe and the International Atomic Energy Agency for their failure to confront Iran. "Months have passed, the IAEA has still not taken any actions. It has not posed a single question to Iran. It has not demanded to inspect a single new site discovered in that secret archive," he said. Embarrassing the IAEA, Netanyahu revealed still more secret Iranian facilities that had been shared with the atomic energy organization but about which it had done nothing. It remains to be seen whether the IAEA will get on board the Netanyahu train, but given the persistence with which he has pursued the Ayatollahs, we'll bet on Bibi.
The only worrisome development coming out of last week concerned the Arab-Israeli conflict. Trump praised the two-state solution. Netanyahu asserted that Israel would control security to the Jordan even if there should be a PLO State. Rightwing punditry correctly noted this was unworkable. States have rights and a PLO state would arm itself to the teeth whether Israel liked it or not.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the rightwing Bayit Yehudi, (or "Jewish Home") Party, said in response "as long as Bayit Yehudi sits in the government, a Palestinian state, which is a disaster to Israel, will not be established."
Netanyahu has long steered clear of the Arab-Israel dispute, focusing all his attention on Iran. It's a sad testament to his neglect that the first new Jewish settlement in the territories in 25 years was announced only this June. It is to replace another that the Israeli government had destroyed. It is fair to predict that coping with the looming danger of yet another enemy state on Israel's borders will fall to another.