If the U.S. Goes to War With Iran, Netanyahu Will Be the Prime Suspect

Thursday, May 23, 2019
By Paul Martin

MAY 19, 2019

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the only world leader to openly express support for the escalating U.S. campaign against Iran, but his statement is an exception to the general Israeli rule. In the two weeks that have passed since the U.S. announced it was reinforcing its military presence in the Persian Gulf, official Israel has mostly taken on a vow of silence. “Luckily, we are not involved,” naively optimistic defense officials briefed reporters.

The attempt to distance itself from an American military operation in the Middle East, as if Israel was merely a fan sitting in the bleachers cheering its favorite team, inevitably sparks analogies to Yitzhak Shamir’s policy of restraint in the 1991 Gulf War and Ariel Sharon’s similar attitude during the 2003 war in Iraq. Shamir’s task was rendered far more difficult because Israel was directly attacked by Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles, but was infinitely easier as well, because no one in his right mind could blame Israel for Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

And while Israel did not come under direct attack in the 2003 Iraq War, it was nonetheless compelled to defend itself against claims, which proliferated as the war progressed, that it had pushed President George W. Bush to decide on the attack in the first place. In the lead up to that ill-fated war, Netanyahu was once again one of a handful of prominent Israelis who preferred to break the silence. In public testimony before the Government Reform Committee of the House of Representatives in 2002, Netanyahu assured American lawmakers that Saddam either had nuclear weapons or was on the verge of acquiring them, with the help of hidden centrifuges “no bigger than washing machines.” Deposing Saddam, Netanyahu promised, would do wonders for the Middle East as a whole.

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