Avner Cohen, the expert on the Israeli nuclear program who eloquently spoke with me last week about the Kam-Blau affair, has an interesting piece in Foreign Policy. He argues that Netanyahu’s spectacular last-minute decision not to attend Obama’s landmark nuclear summit reflects “fears, lack of trust, and a deep sense of international isolation, all characteristic features of Netanyahu’s foreign policy.”
To be frank, Israel’s policy of nuclear opacity is perceived by today’s world community, including Israel’s friends, as something that perhaps made political sense decades ago but that has turned into a political anachronism which is increasingly hard for the international community to swallow. The problem is not the question of Israel’s nuclear possession, but rather Israel’s refusal to acknowledge it. The more Israel is viewed as a cautious, responsible nuclear nation, the harder it is to accept its policy of nuclear opacity as internationally appropriate.
I am coming around to Cohen’s point of view, that the current Israeli government, faced with a US administration disgruntled about settlements, and world opinion swayed by the Goldstone report, genuinely feels isolated and threatened.
Cohen’s thesis reminds me of a Gideon Levy column from last year, where he pointed out the absurdity of FM Avigdor Lieberman “boycotting” a reception at the Chinese embassy over China’s support for the Goldstone report. Levy:
China, France and J Street will somehow get by despite these boycotts, Turkey will also recover from the great vacationers’ revolt, and we can expect that even the Swedes and Norwegians will recover from Israel’s loud reprimands. But a country that attacks and boycotts everyone who does not exactly agree with its official positions will become isolated, forsaken and detestable: North Korea of today or Albania of yesterday. It’s actually quite strange for Israel to use this weapon, as it is about to turn into the victim of boycotts itself.
This is along the same lines of what Cohen is pointing out: the bunker mentality in Israel will prove to be undoing. Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s sense that they are “under attack” even by their most important allies is what will in actual fact isolate them.
This is what I wanted to point out in my column in the Huffington Post yesterday: not that there has been some kind of paradigm shift wherein the foundations of the Israeli state are being undermines, but that politically, Israel’s right wing government thinks it is in a corner.
What will come of this? As a friend put it to me yesterday, historically, nothing good has come of right-wing Israeli governments thinking they are in a corner. We can only hope that the worst will not come to pass.