Exclusive: Olmert Slams Bibi On Iran, Palestine

This appeared yesterday in The New Yorker website

“The attacks on the Administration’s action plan about Iran are certainly premature,” Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister of Israel, wrote me in a series of e-mails, not long after the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (known as the P5-plus-1) struck a deal with Iran, trading some sanctions relief for a suspension of its nuclear program. One of those attacks came from Olmert’s successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the agreement a “historic mistake.” Olmert disagreed. “It’s too early to pass any judgment on how this understanding will be implemented. The use of force should always be the last resort, and we are very far from it.” And, he added, in a clear reference to Netanyahu, “the personal attacks against President Obama and Secretary Kerry are totally unacceptable.” 

Olmert has been out of power for nearly five years now, but he represents a resilient bloc in Israeli politics that even thoughtful American journalists tend to ignore when depicting Netanyahu’s response to the Iran deal as a standoff between the Israeli government and the White House, as if Israel had no strong voices supporting the Obama Administration. Groups advocating for Greater Israel certainly want to see Obama’s Iran initiative fail, and are eager to treat him as naïve if the mullahs’ regime and its centrifuges are left standing; when regional threats seem imminent, settler activity seems merely defiant.

But equally powerful groups advocating for Global Israel—business, academic, and professional leaders who fear, not implausibly, that the occupation will leave them globally isolated, not unlike the Tehran bazaar—want the Obama Administration to succeed. Indeed, the leaders of Global Israel believe that picking a fight with Obama and the P5-plus-1 is a bigger strategic danger to Israel than an Iranian nuclear program. Over seventy percent of Israelis believe the P5-plus-1 deal will not end Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, but seventy per cent also say that America is still “Israel’s most loyal and important ally.”

Olmert knows something about the “tough neighborhood” Netanyahu likes to claim as his patrimony. Olmert also knows about preëmpting a neighbor’s nuclear ambitions. During his tenure, the I.D.F. launched a number of military operations: against Hezbollah, in Lebanon, in July, 2006, soon after he came into office; against Hamas, in Gaza, just as he was leaving, in December, 2008. In September, 2007, Olmert ordered his Air Force to bomb what Israel had determined was a plutonium reactor in the Deir al-Zour region of Syria. Secretary Kerry is in Jerusalem today, presenting Netanyahu with General John Allen’s proposals for security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, should a Palestinian state arise. Olmert worked with General James Jones on just such an American plan in 2008.

But Olmert is also a former Likud politician for whom Netanyahu’s strident reaction to the Iran deal was a familiar play: you mobilize AIPAC and its congressional allies because any defrosting of American relations with Iran undermines Netanyahu’s claim to regional vigilance and indispensability. Acknowledging the relaxation of an “existential threat” might lead the Americans to focus on other sources of regional instability, like, say, the occupation of the West Bank. Netanyahu fancies himself the new Churchill. To Olmert, he sounds more and more like Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

Read the entire article on The New Yorker site