Why Is Bibi Going Ballistic?

Benjamin Netanyahu is taking off his gloves. He's been taking them off for a while, but if press reports out of Israel are accurate, he's boiling over with frustration at President Obama:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up on Tuesday threats to attack Iran, saying if world powers refused to set a red line for Tehran's nuclear program, they could not demand that Israel hold its fire.
"The world tells Israel 'wait, there's still time'. And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," Netanyahu, speaking in English, told reporters in a press conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

By "the world," please read, "Obama (and Cameron, and also the Germans). We know from Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that Netanyahu is "at wits' end" over Obama's decision not to provide the Iranians with clear red lines. Now we see the prime minister taking it to 11, stating in public what he previously stated only in private.

Why is he doing this?

My guess is that he's saying what he's saying because he knows he can't attack, especially before the U.S. election, barring a yellow light from Obama, which he's not getting. Sheer frustration at what he sees as Obama's obtuseness is causing these undiplomatic outbursts.

Ehud Barak, the defense minister, who is his partner in confronting Iran, has apparently decided that attacking Iran now would risk Israel's relationship with the U.S., and Bibi, who is a student of U.S.-Israel relations, understands why Barak thinks this way. It is almost impossible to believe that Netanyahu would risk alienating Congress, and the American people (he's already alienated the President, or, to be fair, they've alienated each other) by attacking Iran against the stated wishes of the U.S. (It is not the attack itself that could risk alienating the affections of Congress and American citizens -- it is the chance that Iran would retaliate by targeting U.S. interests, soldiers and civilians.)

Bibi is in a box, and he's trying to bust it open, but he can't. Given the direct warnings communicated to him from the Obama Administration and a number of European countries, it is very hard to see him doing anything except vent over the next two months. It's not impossible that he would make the Holocaust calculus, which is to say, he believes that stopping a second Holocaust is worth the risk of alienating the U.S., but I think he also knows that we're far from the moment when a second Holocaust might be possible to contemplate.

The alternative interpretation for all this: He's planning on attacking very shortly and is laying the rhetorical groundwork, preemptively justifying his decision to the Israeli people. But again, this doesn't seem likely to me.

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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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