Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have lost his touch.
With just one tweet Netanyahu has managed to help unite Iran’s splintered leaders by offering them the ultimate gift: the threat of war.
Netanyahu’s misstep, on the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution, no less, may explain why on Wednesday President Hassan Rouhani rejected the resignation of Iran’s only recently sidelined foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and welcomed him back into the fold.
To understand this reversal of fortune, look no further than Netanyahu’s Iran war tweet. At the very beginning of February’s Warsaw conference convened at the behest of the Trump administration purportedly to advance peace in the Middle East, Netanyahu posted a video on his official Twitter feed describing his meeting with Oman’s foreign minister.
Netanyahu, speaking in Hebrew, said, “What is important about this meeting — and it is not in secret because there are many of those — is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.”
Netanyahu’s statement triggered heated speculation amongst journalists, translators, and spokesmen as to whether his remarks were referring to a common interest in “combatting Iran,” as claimed by his spokesperson, or in a “war with Iran.”
Regardless, the damage is done. Bibi’s remark cannot be dismissed as a gaffe. It is a failure of statesmanship — a strategic calamity.
Iran struck back four days later. Zarif turned the Munich Security Conference into a stage for charging Israel with “severe violations of international law,” proclaiming that Israel is “looking for war.”
Consider the gift—an Islamic Republic propaganda coup in Munich. The Iranian regime, a theocracy whose constitution nullifies the sovereignty of the Iranian people, whose judiciary ratifies the rape, torture and murder of political prisoners to stifle dissent, and whose Revolutionary Guards siphon Iran’s oil wealth to export the revolution abroad, gets the Bibi makeover. He put Zarif in a position to demonize Israel as the enemy, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and his thugs cast as the champions of Iran and Islam.
Gee thanks, Bibi.
Not since Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980 has a world leader done so much to salvage Khomeini’s utopia — a clerical dictatorship that derives its legitimacy from martyrdom and war.
Sadly, the Bibi show exacts a tragic price on the Iranian people’s peaceful protests against a perverse kleptocracy that rigs elections, institutionalizes discrimination, promotes corruption, celebrates violence, and sanctifies injustice. But the regime reframes them as a national security threat, a conspiracy of spies advancing Netanyahu’s objective of regime change.
It is beyond question that the Islamic Republic poses a grave ideological and military threat to the region and the world. But cranking up a proxy war between Iran and Israel into a conflagration, one that can draw the United States and Russia into a nuclear abyss, is not the solution.
Even if Netanyahu’s tweet is no more than an electoral ploy, a bid to secure another term in office, it is the height of arrogance for a prime minister now indicted for bribery and fraud to conflate his own survival with that of Israel, let alone with the common interest of the 60 nations gathered in Warsaw. In a tweet.
If the Trump administration green lights an Iran war, how would it end? After how many false or real victories born in how many humiliations? At the cost of how many campaigns, how many lives, and how many refugees cast up on how many shores? Ended by what manner of peace treaty?
What gets lost in the Iran war cacophony is that the Bibi show is backfiring. Instead of rolling back Tehran’s disastrous nuclear, regional, and domestic policies, Netanyahu is amplifying the standing and authority of Khamenei, a religious usurper who controls Iran’s president, parliament, army and economy due to the conceit that he derives his sovereign powers from an absent Messiah.
The majority of Iran’s people are under age 40. Iran’s youth — not greying leaders — hold the key to the future of the Islamic Republic. Time and time again, they have chosen peace, prosperity, and security over misery in Iran and martyrdom abroad. What they dream about is the gift of freedom: a referendum on the theocracy’s 40 years of failure, not another military conflict with neighbors that will unite Iranians behind a theocracy they reject.
Instead of tweets that can derail the dream for decades, it is time for Bibi to wrap up his Iran war act.