Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned Sept. 27 to the UN General Assembly hall in New York to send what he termed “a message to the tyrants in Tehran.” He announced that Israel would never allow a regime calling for its annihilation to develop nuclear weapons and would keep acting against its presence in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Netanyahu’s tough stance on Iran evidently did not impress the young Palestinian who killed Kim Levengrond-Yehezkel and Ziv Hajbi on Oct. 7 at the West Bank’s Barkan industrial area where they worked. The Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip who launch incendiary kites and balloons into Israel to burn the fields of the neighboring Israeli communities were not impressed, either. Netanyahu is unable to defend his people in those places, at this point in time.
In terms of Iran’s nuclear program, Netanyahu actually has cause to boast. The determined campaign he led against it catapulted the issue to the top of the international agenda and accelerated negotiations that resulted in Iran’s signing of the 2015 agreement with six world powers on curbing its nuclear ambitions. That was the agreement about which Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said this past March, “For now, we cannot detect any Iranian violations of the agreement. … Right now the agreement, with all its faults, is working and is putting off realization of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years.” Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Gilad, former head of the Military Intelligence Research Division and of the Defense Ministry’s Political Affairs Bureau, had reservations about the deal. Still, in July, he said, “Why does it need to be revoked? They [the Iranians] are adhering to the agreement.” Gilad warned, “We are merely pushing the Iranians to strike out at us harder than ever. Instead of 130,000 missiles, we’ll get 200,000,” a reference to rockets Iran is believed to have supplied to its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.
An unnamed US intelligence official, speaking after Netanyahu’s UNGA speech, dismissed claims of a new Iranian nuclear facility that Israel had allegedly exposed. The official told Reuters that the facility Netanyahu alluded to was full of filing cabinets and documents — not of aluminum pipes or centrifuges for uranium enrichment. “So far as anyone knows, there is nothing in it that would allow Iran to break out of the JCPOA [agreement with Iran] any faster than it otherwise could,” the official was quoted as saying.
At the same time, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said that contrary to Netanyahu’s suggestion that Iran was preventing inspectors from entering suspected nuclear sites, the agency enjoys unfettered access to carry out inspections at all the sites it seeks to visit.
The explanation for the gap between Netanyahu’s presentations and press briefings regarding the Iranian nuclear threat and the assessments by Israeli and international experts should be sought in the Palestinian arena. In fact, it can be found in the prime minister’s own comments regarding the murder of Levengrond-Yehezkel and Hajbi. “This despicable terrorist, this evil man, wished to kill Jews and at the same time destroy the fabric of joint [Palestinian-Israeli] life in Barkan,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook, pledging to remember the two victims forever and to keep developing the Barkan zone.
Netanyahu certainly knows there is no “joint life” in Barkan, only the type of coexistence one finds between a rider and his horse. The Palestinians employed as laborers at the Barkan plants are banned from entering nearby Israeli settlements and are forced to lead their lives under military rule. As with other industrial parks Israel has established in the West Bank, Barkan was built on land considered by the international community (including the United States) and international law as occupied territory. A promise to develop Barkan, located in the heart of the West Bank, is tantamount to a commitment to perpetuate and deepen the Israeli occupation there. Occupation with no hope or end in sight is a surefire recipe for violence. During Netanyahu’s nine years in power, 144 Israelis have been killed and hundreds injured in terror attacks, the vast majority of which occurred in territories under Israeli occupation.
Netanyahu succeeded in mobilizing world powers against Iran’s nuclear program and convinced US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the deal. He was also successful recently in distancing the Iranians from the Israel-Syria border. Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile systems intercept rockets fired by Hamas at southern Israel, and engineers at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are busy developing means to intercept incendiary balloons and drones carrying explosives launched from the Gaza Strip. However, no democratic regime is able to defend its citizens against a young man born under occupation who foresees living his entire life without a single day of freedom.
Israeli defense chiefs have repeatedly warned that collective punishment of Palestinians, destruction of suspected terrorist homes and mass arrests of Palestinians do not deter lone terrorists and merely strengthen the hand of rejectionist organizations. The heads of the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet have repeatedly warned the government’s defense Cabinet that the ongoing Gaza border insurrection could spread to the West Bank. The “Iranian nuclear threat” appears to be the least of their concerns for the safety of Israel’s citizenry. The residents of Israel’s Gaza border communities are also far more worried about the incendiary kites and balloons landing daily in their fields and orchards than about Netanyahu’s warnings against Iran’s nuclear bombs.
Netanyahu has built his career on generating terror-phobia as an expert in the relentless fight against terrorism. He has portrayed every diplomatic concession to the Palestinians as a surrender to terrorism and campaigned vociferously against the release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails. Having said this, Oct. 18 will mark seven years since the prisoner swap deal in which Netanyahu ordered the release of over 1,000 Hamas inmates in return for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit held captive by the organization in Gaza for five years.
The Iran-phobia Netanyahu has been riding in recent years is a fig leaf designed to ignore the occupation policy of his government. This week, as mentioned, his policy took the lives of two more Israelis. Sadly, they do not appear to be the final victims. Facing this real threat, we are sure to see Netanyahu pursuing his Iran-phobia strategy. Let's prepare for another PowerPoint presentation, depicting a “nuclear facility” in the heart of Tehran and the exposure of missile launchers on the outskirts of Beirut.