A Bully Overplays His Hand
Beinart, Peter, Newsweek
Byline: Peter Beinart
Bibi thinks he can push the U.S. around. Think again.
The most generous explanation for Benjamin Netanyahu's brazen, election-season attack on the Obama administration is that it's a product of the prime minister's desperate worries about Iran. And clearly, Netanyahu is desperately worried--in a way that most of Israel's professional security experts are not. They're mostly worried about 1949: an Iranian nuke that undermines Israel's dominance in the Middle East, just as the Soviet Union's atomic test undermined American dominance back then. Bibi, by contrast, is worried about 1942: he's worried that millions of Jews again face extermination and that, he virtually alone among world leaders, sees the coming Holocaust, which is, indeed, enough to make you lose your cool.
But the problem with this more charitable analysis is that Netanyahu has been brazenly intervening in American politics--often with an eye to screwing Democratic presidents--since long before he became obsessed with Iran. It's just the way he rolls. In 1989, as Israel's deputy foreign minister, Netanyahu pushed Congress so hard to scuttle the nascent dialogue between the United States and the PLO that James Baker briefly had him banned from the State Department. In 1998, three days after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, Netanyahu, in a previous stint as Israel's prime minister, addressed a rally organized by Clinton tormenter Jerry Falwell. Falwell later said, "It was all planned by Netanyahu as an affront to Clinton," who was pushing Netanyahu to fulfill Israel's obligations under the Oslo agreement by ceding significant land in the West Bank to the Palestinians.
Perhaps because of his deep ties to America--he attended high school, college, and graduate school in the United States, and held U.S. citizenship until he was in his 30s--Netanyahu has long exuded an extraordinary confidence that he could make the American government bend to his will. In his memoir, Dennis Ross recalls that after Netanyahu's first meeting with Bill Clinton as prime minister, Clinton remarked in bewilderment, "He thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do what he requires."
In other words, Netanyahu's decision to publicly call out Hillary Clinton over Iran last week, soon after his tirade against U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, is not only about Iran. It's about Netanyahu's general belief that when push comes to shove, U. …