These responses follow these recent pieces about Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech: "Is it 1938?", "The Mystery of the Netanyahu Disaster," "The 'Existential' Chronicles Go On," and "On Existential Threats."
1) "What kind of existential threat is this, if it won't change policy on the West Bank?" From a reader at a U.S. defense-related organization:
Let me add a couple more thoughts on Iran as an existential threat to Israel, or to be more precise, whether Netanyahu thinks Iran is an existential threat to Israel. I say, no he does not. Obviously, no one can read his mind, but we can see how he acts, and he does not act like a national leader possessed by such a belief.
A leader who truly believes there is an existential threat to his nation organizes his actions to counter that threat. In particular, he prioritizes his goals. Things which would otherwise be valuable to him have to take a backseat, and maybe even be dispatched with, if it harms or insufficiently aids him in countering the existential threat.
In Netanyahu’s case, what would that include?
It would mean forming stronger alliances against Iran that would buttress Israel’s position against their nuclear program, even at the cost of harming other interests close to Netanyahu’s heart. Principally, that would mean being more accommodating towards the Palestinian Authority (even if not Hamas). This would serve to remove an unnecessary irritant with the Obama administration, conceivably even with the European states imposing sanction on Iran. It would help open doors to the Sunni Arab states that Israel desperately needs to be publicly on its side on the Iran issue, and not just expressing their agreement in private. (Indeed, reports are that Israel wooed these states’ ambassadors to attend Netanyahu’s speech, but was turned down.
Does Netanyahu want to thwart development of an Iranian bomb? Surely. Is it worth any concessions on the West Bank? Apparently not. What kind of existential threat is it when maintaining Israel’s position on the West Bank supersedes rational actions to counter Iran?
So indeed let’s compare Netanyahu to Churchill. We can just mention briefly that Churchill’s main goal from at least May 1940 on was to stay on the best possible terms with the American president, which obviously could serve as a lesson to Netanyahu. But that was an easy one for him. Other things were a lot harder. Selling off parts of the British Empire to the Americans. Making deals with the devil named Stalin, allying himself with any and all partners to defeat Hitler and Germany. *That’s* what you do when you face a true existential threat.
I didn’t know Churchill and he wasn’t a friend of mine, but Netanyahu sure as hell isn’t a Churchill.
2) "This is where we disagree." A reader responds to this line from me, contrasting 1938 and 2015: "Nazi Germany had a world-beating military, and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel." The reader replies:
This is where we disagree. Iran is close and militarily strong, much stronger than any military Israel has faced before. Iran is as far away as Syria and Lebanon. In other words, on the Israeli border. Iran is much larger than Israel and has much larger manpower. While Israel spends more and has more military equipment, it is not that much more and, as stated before, Iran is likely stronger than any military Israel has ever faced before. Hezbollah did very well in its recent wars with Israel.
A war against Iran would be devastating for Israel, or at least that is what many Israelis believe. There is no handwaving "we'll crush them" belief, as you try to portray it.
3) "If it's really 1938 ..." That is the subject line on this reader's note:
The expanding empire that blames a minority (gays) for its problems is Russia, not Iran.
Iran is just a buffer state to Putin. See also Syria.
The best hope for world peace and nuclear proliferation would be joint US and Iranian military operations against ISIS. Second best is a good nuclear deal.
Instead of attacking Iran, we should be quietly moving tens of thousands of troops, tanks and aircraft to all three Baltic countries and Poland.
Even if Iran gets nukes it lacks the air force or navy to invade and hold a country. The same can't be said about Russia.
Several other readers wrote to say that they would have liked the speech better if it were about Putin and Russia.
4) A political shift. From a lawyer on the East Coast:
Netanyahu’s choice to embrace the Republican Party offers what may be a historic opportunity. Henceforth we will have one party, the Republican, asserting as it has for some time that the United States must follow the lead of Israel in all things—the “no daylight” cliché that has become Republican orthodoxy.
This creates an opportunity for the Democratic Party to tell voters something different. How about this: “We wish the people of Israel well. On many issues the interests of Israel and the United States are the same, and we will work together to advance those interests. But there may be times when we conclude, even after honest dialogue with Israel, that the interests of our two countries diverge. When that happens we will work to advance the interests of the United States rather than the differing interests of Israel.”
In the context of U.S.-Israel relations this sounds like a radical idea, but it expresses our view of every other country in the world, and there is no reason Israel should be different. This would perhaps put Democrats out of the running for Sheldon Adelson’s money, but they’re not likely to get any of that anyway.
5) "You are wrong." From a reader I know in the tech industry:
Unfortunately, you're wrong about Bib's fighting words.
You may or may not be right that Iran is fundamentally unlike Nazi Germany or that Iran's leaders are not suicidal. In the spectrum of risks, it's a big chance to take. Israel's population is 8.3M vs Iran's 77.2M vs USA 320.2M, so your statement "any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths" isn't all that reassuring. Is it possible that you do not appreciate the thinking of suicide bombers or Jihadis.
More importantly, Iran neither has to actually use the bomb nor use it directly to intimidate the free world. There are plenty of anonymous popular fronts who unfortunately would happily deliver an atomic suitcase to downtown DC. Oops. What are you going to do? Start a war?
I personally did not support Netanyahu's speaking to Congress, but the scariest quote in the 3rd Jeffrey Goldberg piece you linked to: "The deal that seems to be taking shape right now does not fill me—or many others who support a diplomatic solution to this crisis—with confidence." David Horovitz, the thoughtful editor of [The Times of Israel], put it this way: "Netanyahu so wrong in confronting Obama, so right on Iran".
It's not about preventing any deal. Deep down, doubt it though you may, Netanyahu actually does go to sleep and wake up "genuinely believing that this is a life-or-death existential issue because of a suicidal Iranian leadership." And many many Israelis share what you must consider his "paranoia."
My Dad's [a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald] quote still stands, "When someone threatens to kill you, just believe him." Americans may find this hard to appreciate because of (1) superpower strength, (2) strategic size and depth, and (3) the doctrine of M.A.D. [Mutually Assured Destruction, a.k.a. nuclear deterrence] with relatively rational adversaries for the last 70 years.
I envy your inability to consider the E-word. [Existential]
6) What about the speech, as a speech? From another lawyer on the East Coast:
We can agree to disagree about 1938, protocols, etc., but given your role as former speechwriter, I was really more interested to read what you thought of the speech in terms of delivery, language, rhetoric, structure, etc.
I wasn't listening to it so much in those terms, or taking notes on phrasing and stagecraft. But overall as a speech, I thought it was very good. (Transcript from WaPo here.)
It was crystal-clear: "My friends, for over a year, we've been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It's a very bad deal. We're better off without it."
It was well and powerfully delivered, by someone who knows how to wait for and ride crowd approval, of which there was a lot.
It had a number of noticeable phrases that stayed just on the effective side of the effective-verging-toward-cutesy continuum. (I.e., I thought these were good, not too cute.) For instance, "It doesn't block Iran's path to the bomb; it paves Iran's path to the bomb." And "Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. ... In this deadly game of thrones, there's no place for America or for Israel." And "when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy."
When listening to Ronald Reagan, I often disagreed with the policies he was presenting but respected his skill in presenting them. Same with Benjamin Netanyahu today.