This Middle Eastern country likes nothing more than to have its back against the wall. Accustomed to having the world against it, the country has dealt with repeated and, at times, legitimate fear of being wiped out. Nevertheless, it has somehow made it to the second decade of the 21st century standing strong and posing a threat to its neighbors.
The country could be Iran, but in this case we’re talking about Israel. It’s hardly a fair comparison, in most ways, but when it comes to putting themselves in a corner and soaking in the pressure, the two enemies have something in common.
In Israel’s case, the newest pressure comes from the Goldstone Report. This UN-commissioned report alleges that both Israel and Hamas were guilty of war crimes involving civilian deaths during last winter’s war in Gaza, and that short of an independent investigation into their actions, both sides should be brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Two lines of thinking have fueled the subsequent reaction in Israel. There’s the belief that the UN and the international community is naturally biased against Israel, especially so the Human Rights Council to which Goldstone reported, so the report would of course be one-sided, and Israel’s participation would only serve to legitimize it. Along with this are feelings of what is perceived to be anti-Semitism embodied in the report. While Israel could probably do much more to improve their public standing in the world, it is true that undercurrents of anti-Semitism still run through much of the world, Western and otherwise, as seen in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
The other reaction is more along the lines of: “How dare they equate us to Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group? We’re the most moral army in the world! What can we do if Hamas operates in civilian populations? Uses human shields? Continues lobbing rockets at our civilians?”
Most are legitimate points (the most moral army thing is a bit of a dead horse), but don’t take into account the full picture of the situation – i.e. more of an effort could have been made to avoid harming civilians; the Gaza blockade of disputed legality led to many of the problems. Neither do people realistically appreciate that when two sides are matched up against one another and one side is much bigger and stronger, it is the stronger side that’s expected to carry the moral burden.
Israel has denied the report’s validity, refused to set up a commission, and now, is threatening that this could be the ”end of the peace process.” Back against the wall, here’s where Israel, and especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, like to operate best.
Reading Netanyahu’s comments on Goldstone, it becomes clear that this isn’t meant to be a quid pro quo, a “you screw us with this report, we screw you with no peace” message to the rest of the world. He asserts that if Israel can’t defend themselves, they can’t have peace. In this way, Netanyahu hopes to appeal to anybody fighting terrorists, and specifically to draw on places like Afghanistan and the Caucasus as parallels. But Netanyahu’s priorities are clear – 1. Defense; 2. Keeping his coalition together (hence the lack of a settlement freeze deal); 3. Peace and everything else – which is what makes working for peace in the area so difficult.
1(a) On Netanyahu’s list of priorities is, of course, Iran, which is why recent developments have been chalked up as victories for Israel. The secret reactor plant at Qum and the West’s increased tough talk leading into last week’s negotiations with Iran create a climate where Israel feels support on their principal issue. Before last week it seemed unlikely anyone would condone Israel attacking of Iran. Now, Iran has begun making concessions in negotiations. If they don’t make enough, sanctions appear to be coming, and if they fail, there’s a lot more support, in the West and the Middle East, for military options.
Netanyahu’s speech at the UN ten days ago brought the message that he has been hammering away at for a while: stop Iran. All other concerns are sublimated to his legacy-seeking aim of securing Israel from what he views as an existential threat. As far as he’s concerned, Israel’s had its back to the wall (or the Mediterranean sea) since long before it was a country, since Israel was just a name for the Jewish people, extending through the people’s history.
In this tight spot, Netanyahu finds his own special way to maneuver. He’s shifted the world’s focus from the peace process to Iran, no matter that coming up with peace would be his biggest potential contribution to taming extremists in the area. He’s in the process of deflecting Goldstone, even at risk to Israel’s international standing. As long as the challenges keep coming, Netanyahu will find a way to avoid them.
With Iran’s back a little bit closer to the wall at the moment, Netanyahu may just get what he’s looking for, in the end.