These are hard times for the Israeli right. Used to bullying the US – and especially its present, shallow leader – the Likudists suddenly find that the whole world wants peace in the Middle East rather than war. Brits and Americans didn’t want to go to war in Syria. Now, with the pleasant smile of President Rouhani gracing their television screens, fully accepting the facts of the Jewish Holocaust – unlike his deranged and infantile predecessor – the Americans (75 per cent, if we are to believe the polls) don’t want to go to war with Iran either.
Having, live on television, forced President Obama to grovel to him on his last trip to the White House – Benjamin Netanyahu brusquely told him to forget UN Security Resolution 242, which calls for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from lands occupied after the 1967 war – the Israeli Prime Minister did a little grovelling himself on Monday. He no longer called for a total end to all Iranian nuclear activities. Now it was only Iran’s “military nuclear programme” which must be shut down.
And, of course, like Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction programme” which President George W Bush had to invent when the weapons themselves turned out to be an invention, we still don’t know if Mr Netanyahu’s version of Iran’s “military nuclear programme” actually exists.
What we do know is that when Mr Rouhani started saying all the things we had been demanding that Iran should say for years, Israel went bananas. Mr Netanyahu condemned him before he had even said a word. “A wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Even when Mr Rouhani spoke of peace and an end to nuclear suspicions, Israel’s “Strategic Affairs” Minister – whatever that means – said time had run out for future negotiations. Yuval Steinitz claimed that “if the Iranians continue to run [their nuclear programme], in another half a year they will have bomb capability”.
Mr Netanyahu’s own office joined in the smear campaign.
“One must not be fooled by the Iranian President’s fraudulent words,” one of Mr Netanyahu’s men sneered. “The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning.”
The Rouhani speech was “a honey trap”. Mr Netanyahu himself said Mr Rouhani’s address to the UN, a speech of immense importance after 34 years of total divorce between Iran and the US, was “cynical” and “totally hypocritical”.
Israel Hayom, the Likudist freesheet, dredged up – yet again – the old pre-Second World War appeasement argument that the Israeli right have been reheating for well over 30 years. “A Munich wind blows in the west,” the paper said.
Perhaps it had its effect. If he was not so frightened of Israel – as most US administrations are – President Obama might actually have shaken hands with Mr Rouhani last week; though Mr Rouhani himself might have preferred not to touch the hand of the “Great Satan” too soon. Instead, President Obama settled for a miserable phone call and proved that he knew how to say goodbye in Farsi. Pathetic is the word for it.
In the past, Arab delegates would storm out of the UN General Assembly when Israelis took the stand. When the crazed President Ahmadinejad spoke, Western nations and the Israelis stormed out. But when Mr Rouhani came to speak, Western nations crowded into the chamber to hear him. But Israel stormed out.
“A stupid gesture,” according to that wise old Israeli sage, writer and philosopher Uri Avnery. “As rational and effective as a little boy’s tantrum when his favourite toy is taken away. Stupid because it painted Israel as a spoiler, at a time when the entire world is seized by an attack of optimism after the recent events in Damascus and Tehran. Stupid, because it proclaims the fact that Israel is at present totally isolated.”
Mr Avnery’s contention is Israel wanted two wars, the first against Syria, the second against Iran.
As he wrote last week, when Congress hesitated to strike Damascus, “the hounds of hell were let loose. Aipac (the largest Likudist pro-Israeli lobby group in the US) sent its parliamentary rottweillers to Capitol Hill to tear to pieces any senator or congressman who objected”.
Yet at the White House on Monday, the Israeli Prime Minister had calmed down. I doubt if it will last. Israel, I suspect, will do everything it can to cut down Mr Rouhani’s overtures, whatever American public opinion might say.
For there was President Obama at Monday’s meeting, praising Mr Netanyahu for his support for a two-state solution. And what did President Obama actually say? That there was “a limited amount of time to achieve that goal”.
So why was there only a “limited amount of time”? Not a single scribe asked the poor fellow.
There is, of course, only a “limited amount of time” – in my view, no time at all – to achieve this illusory goal because the Netanyahu government is thieving, against all international law, yet more Palestinian Arab land for Jews and Jews only, at a faster rate than ever, to prevent just such a Palestinian state ever existing.
The Israeli right are well aware of this. And when President Obama can’t even explain this weird “limited amount of time”, the Israelis know that he is still a groveller. This is what real “appeasement” is all about. Fear.
And even if President Obama had the courage to say boo to a goose in his final term in office, you can be sure that Madame Clinton – to quote Sir Thomas More – doesn’t have the spittle for it. For she wants to be the next appeaser-president.
The Likudists have isolated Israel from the world just now but be sure American cowardice will let them off the hook.