Benjamin Netanyahu teaches Barack Obama how to lead on the world stage
By Nile Gardiner World Last updated: October 2nd, 2013
If you are looking for an antidote to last week’s awful mush-filled address to the UN General Assembly by Barack Obama, look no further than Benjamin Netanyahu’s powerful address to the same body. The American president’s speech was an embarrassment, recycling the propaganda claims made by the Iranian regime – "The Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon…"
It would be hard to think of a more groveling message from the leader of the free world, directed at the biggest state sponsor of terrorism on earth, a nation that remains firmly committed to wiping Israel off the map. This wasn’t US leadership. It was the abasement of a superpower before a sworn enemy of the free world.
The Israeli prime minister’s speech to the UN on Tuesday was a direct rebuttal of Barack Obama’s olive branch to Tehran a week ago. It was a display of strong leadership of the kind that is sorely lacking on the world stage today. It was free of the lily-livered appeasement that littered Obama’s words when he took to the podium in New York’s Turtle Bay. It did not contain any trace of the moral equivalence that is generally pervasive throughout the US president’s speeches.
Unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. Netanyahu is not taken in by the plastic smiles and flowery rhetoric of Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, the more sophisticated and refined face of Islamist tyranny in Tehran. Rouhani lacks the bombastic temperament and rough edges of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he is just as dangerous, if not even more so, as his track record suggests. As Netanyahu pointed out, Mr. Rouhani is no saint, rightly identifying him as “a wolf in sheep's clothing”:
President Rouhani, like the presidents who came before him is a loyal servant of the regime. He was one of only six candidates the regime permitted to run for office. Nearly 700 other candidates were rejected.
So what made him acceptable? Well, Rouhani headed Iran's Supreme National Security Council from 1989 through 2003. During that time, Iran's henchmen gunned down opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant. They murdered 85 people at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. They killed 19 American soldiers by blowing up the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
Are we to believe that Rouhani, the National Security Advisor of Iran at the time, knew nothing about these attacks? Of course he did. Just as 30 years ago, Iran's security chiefs knew about the bombings in Beirut that killed 241 American Marines and 58 French Paratroopers.
Rouhani was also Iran's chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. He masterminded the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric.
Now I know Rouhani does not sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing and Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing – a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.
Netanyahu observed that “like everyone else, I wish we could believe Rouhani's words. But we must focus on Iran's actions.” He made a passionate appeal for the West to stand its ground in the face of the Iranian threat, urging it to reject any weakening of the sanctions regime. He also made it clear that Israel is prepared to act alone if necessary to halt the rise of a nuclear-armed Iran:
The last century has taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power, sooner or later, its appetite for aggression knows no bounds. That's the central lesson of the 20th century. Now, we cannot forget it. The world may have forgotten this lesson. The Jewish people have not.
Iran's fanaticism is not bluster. It's real. This fanatic regime must never be allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons.
… Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map. Against such a threat, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself. I want there to be no confusion on this point: Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. Yet in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others.
This is real leadership. Contrast this approach with Barack Obama’s milquetoast “leading from behind” strategy, one that projects only weakness and invites aggression against the United States. Netanyahu demonstrated once again that he is a conviction politician, one who is prepared to lead rather than follow, who unapologetically stands up for his country’s national interest.
President Obama has much to learn from the Israeli prime minister’s principled stand, not least the lesson that “hope and change” is not a wise strategy when faced with a brutal regime that spins a message of peace while sponsoring terror and advancing its ambition to become a nuclear-armed power.