October 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
As anyone who watched the vice-presidential debate on Thursday night may have noticed – and as I noted myself on Friday – Joe Biden repeatedly brought up Prime Minister Netanyahu but always referred to him by his nickname, Bibi. On Friday I wrote, “I get that Biden was trying to push how well he knows Netanyahu and that informality is part of Biden’s natural shtick, but can you imagine Biden talking about any other foreign leader in such an informal manner? Not sure if this says more about Biden, Netanyahu, or the U.S.-Israel relationship more broadly, but it’s worth thinking about.”
I actually did spend some time thinking about it for The Atlantic, and here’s what I came up with:
When the subject of Iran’s nuclear program came up during last night’s vice presidential debate, Joe Biden began talking about his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Biden likes to play up his long-standing connections with foreign leaders, so mentioning Netanyahu by name was not in itself surprising. The odd part is that Biden never referred to Netanyahu in any way but “Bibi,” which is Netanyahu’s often-used nickname.
While Netanyahu is referred to as Bibi in a number of settings (in line with Israelis’ proclivity toward nicknames, especially in the military), Biden’s use of his friend’s nickname stood out in a formal political debate. Even more noticeable is that Biden initially referred to “Bibi” without even providing his last name or his position as prime minister of Israel. It is impossible to imagine this happening with any other world leader, but Biden did it repeatedly and with ease when it came to Netanyahu.
It is easy to chalk this up to Biden’s generally informal nature, or his desire to create a contrast between his own decades of foreign policy experience and Ryan’s relative dearth of foreign policy chops. Yet even if Biden did so unintentionally, there are some lessons to be learned from the vice president’s colloquialism about Netanyahu and the current state of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The rest of the article can be found on The Atlantic’s website here, and as always please let me know what you think.
April 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz gave a wide-ranging interview to Haaretz that is practically pitch perfect. Everyone should go read it for yourselves, for it combines realistic and sober analysis on Iran with a measured sense of quiet confidence that will give pause to any Iranian leaders doubting Israeli capabilities or resolve. It also manages to convey the way in which Israel feels a genuine threat without resorting to the path of least possible resistance in invoking the Holocaust. All in all, it is a convincing display that the IDF is in excellent hands.
For those who want the quick summary, Gantz says that while he does not think Iran has chosen or will choose to develop nuclear weapons, the threat of a nuclear Iran should not be downplayed since it would have devastating global consequences. He reiterates that Israel is the strongest state in the region and will remain so, but that it is also a careful and measured state that does not make decisions borne out of hysteria. He is of the opinion that global pressure on Iran is working, and keeps up that pressure rhetorically by stressing that Israel’s military option must be credible in order to work and that he is doing everything in his power to ensure that Israel’s military threats are indeed credible.
The best crystallization of his thoughts on Iran is this line, which is one you are unlikely to ever hear from Netanyahu: “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.” Unlike Bibi, who views Iran as being led by suicidal men in the throes of religious fervor, Gantz views the Iranian leadership as religious fundamentalists who nevertheless are vulnerable to pressure and persuasion. Gantz also has thoughts on Shalom Eisner, Haredi military service, and Israeli military preparedness in the North, but like I said, I urge you to read the interview yourself.
Yom Haatzmaut begins tonight, and it is a good time to reflect on the fact that Israel’s founding leaders were not always perfect nor prescient (hello, Haredi military exemption!) but were nonetheless remarkable and awe-inspiring men who built a democratic state from nothing and managed to defend their new country from enemies all around without destroying it from within. My fervent wish is that Israel’s next generation of leaders prove themselves worthy of the mantle that they have been bequeathed. If Benny Gantz is indicative of anything, there is hope yet.