Benjamin Netanyahu hoped that his trip to the United States would keep him away from trouble at home for a few days. As in the good old days, he will be able to juggle in fluent English the issues that are his forte – the nuclear program and Iranian terrorism, normalization with Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian arena, the tension in the north, and a long list of political, economic, and technological matters – rather than the legal legislation and its aftermath.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife landed in San Jose || Roy Avraham/GPO
But Netanyahu scored a spectacular self-goal when he chose, as he boarded the plane, to compare opponents to supporters of Iran and the PLO. Let's set aside for a moment the chilling parallels to the Nazis and their collaborators, and the harm to millions of loyal Israelis who fear for the future of their country, and wonder: Why did the prime minister choose to put all the issues that are important to him in the shadow of his statement, which only increases the fear for Israeli democracy?
Intensify protests in the US
With his words, Netanyahu intensified the protest that awaits him wherever he goes. Even in his meetings, he will encounter criticism, or at least concerned questions. He will discover that his favorite arena of all, in his favorite city, has become hostile to him, and that he, too, the almighty magician, has lost his abilities, that he is exposed and vulnerable, and worst of all, that the State of Israel, in whose name he got there, is far from the super-brand it has always been.
Demonstration against the legal reform, photo: Dudu Greenspan
In the not-too-distant past, such a visit by an Israeli prime minister was a great celebration. No matter who led Israel, he was always considered a superstar in the United States, a member of a household in Washington, a leader who belongs to the premier league of leaders. This is not the case now: President Joe Biden refused to invite Netanyahu to the White House, settling for a side meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly; Many leaders suddenly encountered difficulties making time in their schedules to meet with him; Others conditioned it on him coming to them; Even senior Jewish leaders have made it clear that they will come out of respect for the country, but will say exactly what they think about the processes currently underway for Israel and the government.
Tehran feels on the horse
Netanyahu will need all his rhetorical and political prowess to jump over these hurdles and make lemonade out of these lemons. This is important not for personal and political reasons, but for our national reasons: the list of burning issues is so long, and some of them are so important, that it is really essential to give them full attention.
The most important issue is Iran. In recent months, Tehran has felt on the horse, the result of its warm relations with Russia and China, of upgrading its relations with the Gulf states, and of the unsigned agreement it reached with the United States, which led to a slowdown in the pace of uranium enrichment in exchange for thawing money and releasing prisoners. As a result, Iran has accelerated its terror efforts against Israel, and it is also brazen towards the International Atomic Energy Agency – blocking the work of some of the inspectors is only the latest evidence of this.
The U.S. wants quiet. Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, photo: Reuters
The only way to pull Iran back and deter it is through American political, military, and economic pressure. Unfortunately, it's not in the cards. Washington is busy with its own affairs and wants quiet on the Iranian front. In the good old days, Netanyahu could have influenced what happens in the White House, but this time he has to say thank you for meeting with Biden. Israel is almost alone on this front, and it may soon have to raise the stakes in its war against Tehran.
The second most important issue is Saudi Arabia. The United States is eager to reach an agreement, and Netanyahu is also showing great interest. But Israel must make sure that it does not pay an unreasonable price for this on the two main issues on the agenda: Saudi Arabia's demand to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, and its demand for a dramatic military upgrade, including advanced weapons and capabilities. Israel must ensure that its national interests are not harmed, and that it receives significant compensation – security and economic – as part of the American commitment to maintain its qualitative security advantage. It will be difficult given the cold relations between the leaders of the countries, but the fact that Biden is seeking reelection is an opportunity that should be seized as part of the huge deal Washington is trying to stitch together.
Will require a heavy price. Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman, Photo: Reuters
Israel also seeks greater American involvement in an effort to deter Hezbollah in the north and spur the Palestinian Authority to take more vigorous action against terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. Here, too, Netanyahu will encounter an American counter-demand – to grant more capabilities to the PA, and to calm the extremists of his government who are busy lighting bonfires (and establishing outposts) on a daily basis. It is likely that we will hear here from the best of the "Netanyahu" repertoire: different messages in English and Hebrew, to please the changing audience at home and abroad.
Silicon Valley Circus
And there was also the Silicon Valley circus with meetings with high-tech megalomaniacs, headed by Elon Musk (a declared enemy of Biden, as if to complicate the already complicated situation with the administration). Personalities of his kind used to look at the Prime Minister of Israel with admiration, but today it is Israel that makes pilgrimages to them. Part of this is due to the dangerous weakening of the tech nation's status. Netanyahu should keep this in mind, especially when there is a dramatic decline in foreign investment in Israeli high-tech and fear of a mass brain drain.
Netanyahu in his conversation with Musk, photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO
A host of these issues will fill the media this week. As mentioned, they will not rule it alone as Netanyahu would like, but will be part of a split screen: on one side what is happening there, and on the other side what is happening here, with the continuation of the High Court hearings, and the protests, and the ministers and MKs who will certainly not take over them even in these charged days. The gap is the story of our lives in these months: instead of dealing with critical issues, an entire country is dealing with issues of secondary importance and is dragged into a dangerous spiral, with the active encouragement of its prime minister.
Wrong? We'll fix it! If you find a mistake in the article, please share with us