Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official Twitter account made clear the goal of his late September visit to the United States. Before embarking on a plane Saturday [Sept. 28] for New York, Netanyahu posted on the 140-character social media site the simple statement, “I will tell #truth in face of the sweet-talk and the onslaught of smiles. One must talk facts and one must tell the truth.”
It is no coincidence that the Israeli leader is focusing on the issue of truth after President Hassan Rouhani clearly sucked the venom from Israel’s continuous attacks on Iran. By stressing issues like telling “the truth” and complaining about “the sweet-talk,” the Israeli leader is reflecting on the effectiveness of the newly elected and moderate Iranian leader to settle issues that have caused his country so much trouble in recent years.
Netanyahu’s mission is made difficult by the frenzy of interviews, the op-ed by Rouhani in The Washington Post, his UN speech and open press conferences. It is made even more complicated by the 15-minute phone call between US President Barack Obama and Rouhani, the first direct US-Iranian presidential contact since 1979.
I will tell #truth in face of the sweet-talk and the onslaught of smiles. One must talk facts and one must tell the truth.Also read— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) September 29, 2013
The Israeli leader has clearly chosen not to accept Rouhani’s olive branch nor even buy time to test whether it is serious. Rouhani was shown on television meeting in New York with French president François Hollande, the British Foreign Secretary Wiliam Hague and other world leaders. By choosing to take on Rouhani’s credibility, the Israeli prime minister will be going against an international trend that appears to be willing to give Iran a chance to prove itself.
What Israel’s own leader seems to forget is that it is his credibility, more than Rouhani’s, that will be questioned. Netanyahu’s red line drawn on a picture of a bomb at last year’s UN General Assembly is still fresh in people’s minds. The prime minister presented cartoonists and satirists with a huge gift courtesy that speech. To top that would require presenting a highly skeptical public with much more evidence. In the 10 years since the United States launched its misguided mission in Iraq, one of the most painful images that remains of respected US Secretary of State Colin Powell is his attempt to illustrate the claim, since proven wrong, that President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Netanyahu’s efforts will require a smoking gun to counter Iranian assertions that the nuclear plants it is developing are for civilian use, and not military as the Israelis claim. Even if the sweet-talking Israeli leader convinces a few of his point — that Iran is in fact trying to develop a nuclear bomb — he will have a harder time proving that the bomb presents a threat to the state of Israel. In the past, Netanyahu and other Israelis had easily been able to claim that such a bomb would be a direct threat to Israel by simply pointing to the anti-Israeli rhetoric of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This weapon, however, has been removed from the Israeli arsenal, leaving Netanyahu with the much weaker argument of a “wolf in sheep's clothing.” This argument was handily defeated when Israel’s most powerful ally, the United States, sent clear signals that it was willing to test the new Iranian government’s commitment to resolving outstanding issues.
Security strategists have regularly argued that Israel cannot effectively attack Iran on its own. An active US role is a requirement for any possible military adventure against Iran. This scenario, however, receded after the White House showed its clear hesitation to intervene military in Syria.
So, if Netanyahu’s credibility is on the line, and if the United States and other Western allies are willing to give Rouhani’s claims a chance to be proven, what, then, is the purpose of the continued Israeli attacks against Rouhani?
A look at Netanyahu’s own record since he was Israeli ambassador to the United Nations demonstrates a tendency to exaggerate regional issues to distract world opinion away from the one issue on which Israel refuses to budge — the question of Palestine. Ironically, one of the key arguments deployed in Israel is that Iran plans to waste time in negotiations while developing its nuclear military capability. Few in Israel are willing to look in the mirror and see how since the Madrid conference and the Oslo Accords, Israel has used the exact same time-wasting tactic to expand illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands while offering token, dead-end negotiations.
The promise by Netanyahu to speak the truth at the United Nations should be welcomed by the world community so long as this truth is irrefutable, factual and not just another attempt to divert world opinion from the illegal 46-year-old Israeli occupation.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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