Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting. Photograph: Getty Images
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Iran Watch: Netanyahu looks increasingly isolated, writes Mehdi Hasan

Even a former Shin Bet head describes the Prime Minister as "not fit to hold the steering wheel of power".

Some of you may have seen Yuval Diskin's comments reported in newspapers across the world. The former head of Shin Bet - Israel's equivalent of the FBI - launched an unprecedented and astonishing attack on the integrity, honesty and judgement on Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his mini-me, the defence minister Ehud Barak, accusing them of "misleading the public on the Iran issue" and making decisions "based on messianic feelings".

I never thought I'd find myself in such agreement with a former Israeli spymaster. In fact, Diskin's scathing comments form the basis of my column in today's Guardian:

At a public meeting on Friday Diskin, former head of Shin Bet (Israel's MI5), described Netanyahu and Barak as "not fit to hold the steering wheel of power". He went on: "I have observed them from up close … They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off … They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won't have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race."

Diskin joins a long list of eminent members of the Israeli security establishment who have publicly voiced criticism of, and opposition to, their government's ultra-hawkish line on Iran. In fact, his astonishing attack on his former bosses came just 48 hours after the head of Israel's military, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, declared that the Iranian leadership had not yet made a decision to build nuclear weapons, that it was unlikely to go this "extra mile", and was composed of "very rational people". "Decisions must be made carefully out of historic responsibility but without hysteria," added Gantz in a not-too-subtle dig at his political masters.

I go on to point out that opinion polls suggest the Israeli public isn't too keen on a pre-emptive military attack on Iran by the Jewish state and argue that "Netanyahu isn't Israel":

Those of us opposed to another catastrophic conflict in the Middle East should not allow his alarmist and messianic rhetoric to drown out the voices of Israel's doves: those critics of military action, who, ironically, are far more numerous and outspoken than the doves on Capitol Hill or in Westminster, and have far better credentials.

Thankfully, Bibi does seem to be more and more isolated on the Iranian "threat". But will that actually stop him from launching air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities at some stage in the coming months, as some commentators predict (and hope!)? Who knows? But on a related note, his predecessor and former Likud Party colleague Ehud Olmert told a conference of US Jews in New York on Sunday that the Israeli government shouldn't rush into unilateral military action against the Islamic Republic - and, according to the New York Times, was met with angry boos and heckles from his ultra-hawkish audience.

I guess even ex-Israeli prime ministers who have launched bloody wars against Arab nations aren't immune from the wrath of US Likudniks.  But Olmert gave as good as he got:

“As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren,” he said, “I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis.”

Nice.

 

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.