3 Netanyahu Mistakes—and 1 Netanyahu Achievement

In re: Prime Minister Netanyahu's handling of the Iran crisis:

1) Netanyahu shouldn't have waved around that cartoonish drawing on the podium of the United Nations. It made him look unserious, and a man in his position can't afford to look unserious. I'm hearing ridicule of that stunt from people in the United States government who are a) militant on the subject of Iran, and b) needed by Israel to carry-out effective anti-proliferation efforts. Don't confuse massive press coverage of his ACME bomb chart with approval of his ACME bomb chart. A non-Wile E. Coyote chart with a red line would have been more useful than this. 

2) Netanyahu needlessly alienated President Obama by entering, inadvertently or not, American partisan politics. Obama has not done a stellar job of managing his relationship with Netanyahu, but it is Netanyahu who needs Obama's help, not the reverse, and so it is more incumbent on him to manage the relationship, and not embarrass the president.

3) Netanyahu's constant threats, and warnings, about Iran's nuclear program have undermined Israel's deterrent capability. Netanyahu spent much of this year arguing, privately and publicly, that soon it would be too late to stop the Iranians from moving their centrifuges fully underground. He knows full well that the Iranians could soon enter the so-called zone of immunity, by moving the bulk of their centrifuges into the Fordow facility, where Israeli bombs can't reach. But he's now kicked the can down the road until next spring. If I were Ayatollah Khamenei, I would be less worried today about an Israeli attack than I was yesterday. If I were Ayatollah Khamenei, I would be more worried about an eventual American attack than he apparently is.

Let's not forget that the main reason the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions to world peace (and to American national security, as President Obama has stated) is at the top of the international agenda is.... Benjamin Netanyahu. He has made this issue an urgent one. He has helped focus President Obama's attention on the issue, and he has helped focus Europe's attention as well. Without Netanyahu's constant prodding, I doubt that sanctions would be as strong as they are. While he's done a good job over the past several years keeping the world focused on this issue, lately he seems to be in a panic. He needs to regain control of himself and realize that condescending to the U.N. and alienating the American president aren't helpful to his strategy of getting the world to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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