The conventional wisdom in U.S. presidential campaigns is that candidates win by moving to the center in a contest’s final weeks to capture undecided “moderate” voters turned off by supposedly “extreme” sentiments.
That bromide has always been questionable. It naively and condescendingly assumes that passionate partisans will automatically show up and vote for a squish simply because he or she claims to be on their side. We’ve all heard it: “Where else are they going to go?” Ask Mitt Romney how that worked out two years ago.
Stuck in that mindset, President Barack Obama’s taxpayer-funded election fixers in Israel must have been absolutely thrilled when, just before Tuesday’s elections there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he no longer supports Palestinian statehood, and that he would support the building of “thousands of settler homes in Arab east Jerusalem to prevent future concessions to the Palestinians.”
Surely the man Team Obama hates — that is the right word, as “a former senior Obama administration official” told Politico that “they hate him, they should, and they’re praying that he is out of power” — had committed an act of desperation that would seal his political doom.
Here’s what they don’t understand about Bibi, and apparently never will: He loves Israel and its people. His mission in life is to do what he believes will guarantee its survival and prosperity. Like any politician, he deeply wants his positions to be popular. But he won’t abandon his principles in order to be accepted — or elected.
In that context, Benjamin Netanyahu had no choice but to reverse his long-held position on Palestinian statehood and to advocate settlement expansion when he did, even though it was Election Eve. Here’s why.
Early on Monday, the Times of Israel reported that almost three weeks earlier, in a stunning change of course, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence had “removed Iran and Hezbollah from its list of terrorism threats, after years in which they featured in similar reports.”
Evidence of that delisting is apparently contained in the classified version of the annual report DNI submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The public version has no specific terrorism threat list.
The public version of the previous year’s report, submitted on January 29, 2014, had the following things to say about Iran and Hizballah (DNI’s spelling) under the “Terrorist Activities Overseas” topic in its Page 4 “TERRORISM” section:
Iran and Hizballah are committed to defending the Asad regime (in Syria — Ed.) and have provided support toward this end, including sending billions of dollars in military and economic aid, training pro-regime and Iraqi Shia militants, and deploying their own personnel into the country. Iran and Hizballah view the Asad regime as a key partner in the “axis of resistance” against Israel and are prepared to take major risks to preserve the regime as well as their critical transshipment routes.
Iran and Hizballah
Outside of the Syrian theater, Iran and Lebanese Hizballah continue to directly threaten the interests of US allies. Hizballah has increased its global terrorist activity in recent years to a level that we have not seen since the 1990s.
None of these fundamental facts changed during the following 13 months, but the public version of the 2015 report only mentions Hizballah once — and as a target, i.e., the victim, of attacks by “Sunni extremists” in Lebanon. The Times of Israel story, apparently paraphrasing the classified version of the DNI report, gives it credit for, in its words, “fighting the Islamic State, independently of the American-led campaign, both in Syria and Iraq.”
As to Iran, the 2015 report blames that country’s operatives for December’s “computer operations targeting US military, transportation, public utility, and other critical infrastructure networks.” It notes that its “intelligence and security services continue to view the United States as a primary threat.” Additionally, it “does not [italics mine] face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon,” while its “progress on space launch vehicles” has given it “the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.”
Despite all of this, Iran has apparently improved its standing with the U.S. government by helping to prevent the Islamic State “from gaining large swaths of additional territory” in Iraq and for its “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia,” even though such intentions have “negative secondary consequences for regional stability.” None of this even remotely justifies delisting the world’s leading terror-sponsoring nation as a terror threat.
So why did it happen? Let’s break it down.
U.S. troops, with Iraqi help, won the Iraq War after the successful “surge” of 2008.
Contrary to what Obama laughably claims, the rise of the Islamic State was not caused by the 2003 U.S. invasion and its accompanying elimination of Saddam Hussein. Instead, the Islamic State has filled the power vacuum created by the premature withdrawal of U.S forces Obama ordered at the end of 2011.
If it weren’t for Hizballah and Iran’s efforts against the Islamic State, Iraq would likely fall without a return of substantial U.S. combat forces — something Obama has continually ruled out. So both entities, seeing their newly acquired leverage, demanded delisting as a condition for continuing to fight in Iraq, at least for another two years. Otherwise, Iraq would probably fall on Obama’s watch, humiliating him for eternity.
Delisting Hizballah as a terrorist entity means that it can’t be denied a potential role in any potential Palestinian state. Its friends at the United Nations would likely bless its involvement. Delisting Iran opens up the likelihood of lifted sanctions, a more stable Iranian economy, and a populace less likely to revolt against that regime’s fundamentalist tyranny for the foreseeable future.
Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t care about the games the Obama administration is playing to save face as its foreign policy implodes. He cares about preserving Israel, and he knows that Hizballah, a terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction, cannot be allowed to become a part of any next-door government. That is why he rejected Palestinian statehood within hours of that Times of Israel story’s appearance. (His statement Thursday that he is still for a “sustainable” Palestinian state isn’t a backtrack, as it obviously rules out a de facto terrorist state, something to which the Obama administration has now opened the door.)
Additionally, since it has become painfully obvious that the U.S. has a vested interest in appeasing Iran and Hizballah, Netanyahu knows that, despite appearances, he has probably, for all practical purposes, lost what in bygone days was his best and most reliable ally until at least January 2017, and perhaps indefinitely. Because of that painful reality, he is pursuing aggressive settlement building in areas the Palestinians wish to annex to make it far more difficult for a future squish-dominated Israeli administration to cede that territory to a neighboring terrorist state.
It cannot be emphasized enough that Netanyahu took these actions with no idea as to how they would play out electorally. But he knew that they were right, and to him that’s all that mattered. He got a resounding win. For once, virtue has been rewarded.
The intensely hateful editorial and official reactions to Bibi’s victory in the U.S. and other parts of the world among those who will never understand the idea of virtue, let alone appreciate it, only confirm just how important that victory is.