Is Netanyahu an Existential Threat to Israel?

One ex-Israeli official put it best. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to be "going berserk."

He is demanding that the United States set a "red line" that, once crossed, will automatically initiate a U.S. attack on Iran. He doesn't even bother to pretend that war with Iran is in U.S. interests. He just wants his war trigger. But he sees the chances for war diminishing every day.

I think his latest tantrum was produced by last week's New York Times op-ed by its former executive editor, Bill Keller, which stated that even if Iran develops nuclear weapons, they would not necessarily pose a significant threat to Israel, let alone to the United States.

Keller merely suggested what I have heard Israelis say privately: this whole Iran scare is not about nukes per se, it is about Israel's fear of losing the ability to do whatever it wants to, whenever it wants to. Bomb Gaza. Bomb Lebanon. Bomb Gaza relief ships. Bomb whoever, whenever.

It is about regional hegemony. After all, militarily Israel can more than handle Iran and both countries know that. That is why Israelis do not share Netanyahu's enthusiasm for war.

Not only do they not want war, they rightly fear that an attack on Iran would result in thousands of missiles being launched against Israeli population centers by Hezbollah and Hamas. Even though Defense Minister Ehud Barak promises that only 500 Israeli civilians would be killed (how did he come up with that number), Israelis do not want their kids to be among them.

None of this seems to matter to Netanyahu, who acts less like an Israeli leader than a U.S. neocon. That is why he is the first Israeli prime minister not even to go through the motions of serious negotiations. He is not interested.

Fortunately, President Obama -- like President George W. Bush before him -- is standing in the way of an Iran war. Netanyahu's plan requires the United States to jump in to bail Israel out once it begins a war it cannot finish, but Obama, like Bush, won't permit it.

So what is Netanyahu to do? He will defeat President Obama (at least in his dreams) and bring in a Mitt Romney under the sway of Sheldon Adelson. He believes Romney would go to war and so he is engineering conflict with the United States to tip the election.

Forget the fact that he can't do it. The percentage of American Jews who vote based on Israel's perceived desires is 3 percent at best, and not even that 3 percent necessarily believes war is in Israel's interests. Nonetheless, that is what Bibi's whole game is about.

The irony is that it is unlikely a President Romney would go to war, either. With the military opposed, one would have to imagine that Romney would risk American interests (most importantly, young lives) to please a donor and the same neocon claque that led Bush to a horrific war with Iraq.

Really? A new Republican president would want to begin his term with another Middle East war? Dream on, Bibi.

The only force in the United States that favors Netanyahu's approach is the Israel lobby (AIPAC and its satellite organizations), neoconservative pundits and some Christian rightists (although the latter are more enthusiastic about going to war against a woman's right to choose and gay rights than against Iran). War with Iran could destroy Romney's presidency and he surely knows it.

The bottom line then is that all Netanyahu is accomplishing with his ugly saber-rattling (and attempts to influence our election) is threatening the survival of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Don't kid yourself. No matter what Obama says publicly, he is furious with Netanyahu. Privately, it is hard to imagine that even Republicans like seeing the United States being treated with such contempt by a country we sustain with $3.5 billion a year in aid (exempt from all cuts, unlike every other program) and U.N. vetoes that make America look like Israel's satellite. The only thing that keeps politicians quiet is intimidation and campaign contributions. That won't last forever, particularly as younger American Jews have moved toward indifference to Israel due to the policies it has pursued since an Israeli fanatic killed Yitzhak Rabin.

Israelis need to wake up. I.L. Kenen, the founder of AIPAC, called the United States Israel's defense line. It is. And Bibi is jeopardizing it.

Benjamin Netanyahu poses an existential threat to the Jewish state. Those who claim to care about Israel need to speak out. Will we really allow Netanyahu to destroy a 2000 year old dream?