Looking like a slightly deranged grandfather obsessed with something only he can see—perhaps an older, male version of the off-kilter character played by Claire Danes on Showtime’s Homeland—Benjamin Netanyahu fussed and scribbled over a cartoon bomb at the podium of the United Nations yesterday. With any luck, the bombastic, extremist, too-far-right-for-even-Likud Israeli prime minister has done himself in.
You can read Netanyahu’s entire rant , if you like.
Of course, Netanyahu has looked like a bizarre version of Paul Revere for years now. (As he himself said yesterday at the UN: “I’ve been speaking about the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons for over fifteen years.”) No one, or almost no one, believes that Iran is a vast nuclear threat and that the United States (or Israel) has to bomb it in weeks or months or, as Netanyahu suggests, at the latest next summer. Not the Obama administration, which is treating Netanyahu as if it wishes it could haul out a straitjacket and a syringe. Not the Israel national security establishment, which is almost universally opposed to a strike on Iran. Not the Iran Project—which represents a cross section of the American national security establishment and has laid out, in detail, why there’s no need to go to war against Iran.
But few people, other than The Nation, are willing to say that Netanyahu might actually be crazy. To be sure, Netanyahu is a sly one, and his bomb-rattling over Iran has served at least one useful purpose, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, namely, he has focused the world’s attention away from Palestine. Half the world is so concerned that Bibi Netanyahu might bomb Iran and thus trigger a vast conflict in the Middle East, sending oil prices skyrocketing and many thousands to their deaths, that it’s walked on tiptoes around him. It’s long past time to stop that. If Netanyahu isn’t actually crazy—and, in the process, whipping up the deep-seated, unstable fears of the Holocaust among his supporters—then he’s a really good actor.
Yesterday, with a red marker, Netanyahu scribbled over a cartoon bomb that looked like the one that Wile E. Coyote is always planting to stop the Road Runner, complete with burning fuse heading toward a road, fat-looking object. Hopefully, that isn’t a design prepared by the Mossad to show a nuclear device. Presumably, Israeli intelligence—which opposes a strike against Iran—knows what a real nuclear bomb looks like.
But, as many analysts have pointed out, Netanyahu’s scary bomb threat makes wild, wrong assumptions and assertions. To get one bomb, a single bomb, Iran would have to kick out all the UN inspectors, re-refine its 20-percent-enriched uranium completely, manufacture a triggering device and everything else that goes with a bomb, and even then it would be struck trying to figure out how to get it to Israel. That is, if Iran were feeling suicidal and if it were run by insane people, which it isn’t.
Take this gem from Bibi, who (of course) invoked the Holocaust:
Nothing could imperil our common future more than the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons. To understand what the world would be like with a nuclear-armed Iran, just imagine the world with a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda.
Of course, only Netanyahu thinks that Iran and Al Qaeda are equivalent. He quoted that doddering old mumbler Bernard Lewis, one of the godfathers of the neoconservative Middle East crew, to show that Iran is ‘apocalyptic” enough to seek Koran-inspired suicide:
There’s a great scholar of the Middle East, Prof. Bernard Lewis, who put it best. He said that for the Ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement. Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth. That’s not just what they believe. That’s what is actually guiding their policies and their actions.
No, it’s not. But what is guiding Netanyahu’s actions? Is anything holding him back? Maybe, it’s just the red light that he’s getting from Washington.
To free his hand, so far this year Netanyahu has tilted heavily toward Mitt Romney, who seems ready to give Israel a green light. In his paranoid fog, however, Netanyahu may be dimly aware that Romney isn’t going to win the election in November, and his freedom to act against Iran will be constrained for the next few years. And thankfully, even deranged people can be held in straitjackets.
Check out more of Robert Dreyfuss’s UN coverage .