Opinion | Opinion

Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Cuban missile precedent

In light of a ship caught carrying aggressive weapons, aimed at terrorizing his fellow countrymen, the leader delivered a firm message, warning that neither his country “nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation’s security to constitute maximum peril”.

 He went on to explain to his worried viewers and listeners that the missiles which had just been found, once reaching their destination and being deployed, could have hit any target, including the nation’s capital.

 This wasn’t Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at Eilat port earlier this week while pointing at the Clos C ship, caught by the Israeli Navy carrying a deadly Iranian cargo of assorted munitions, including rockets. These rockets, in Netanyahu’s words, were smuggled “for fatal purposes against Israel to hurt Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and even Haifa.”

 No, it was rather President John F. Kennedy, who, after a secret Soviet enterprise to deploy missiles in Cuba had been revealed, delivered an address on October 22, 1962, declaring that in order “(t)o halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated.”

 The rest is history. The world held its breath watching the United States and the Soviet Union coming so close to a nuclear war, and was relieved when the crisis was over. The lesson emanating from this crucial historical moment is that resilience and steadfastness vis-à-vis your enemy eventually pays.

 I’m not sure Netanyahu, when speaking in Eilat about the evil schemes of Iran, had President Kennedy in mind, as a hero of the free world who had stood up against the Soviet warmongers. Usually, he prefers to quote Winston Churchill, who, as a British parliamentarian before World War II, raised a lone voice against his government’s policy of appeasement when confronted with Nazi Germany’s aggression.

 Whoever his historical role model may have been, Netanyahu strongly believes that “(h)istory has taught us that to prevent war tomorrow, we must be firm today,” as he rightly said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly on October 1, 2013. This is why he couldn’t hide his disappointment in Eilat, when he referred to what he conceived as the surrendering of the West to Iran’s new flirting tactics. “We are revealing the truth behind the deceiving smiles of Iran”, he said, “to expose the delusion that Iran is changing direction.”

 I can easily empathize with him. Unlike President Kennedy, who spoke about a potential threat, Israel’s prime minister was talking about real danger, one that already has harmed the Israelis. Indeed, on Wednesday, the same type of rockets found a week earlier in the Clos C ship were indiscriminately fired from Gaza towards Israel’s southern cities.

 The world, though, didn’t seem to be convinced, and many foreign correspondents who had been invited to the press conference in Eilat chose to stay home. In Mr. Netanyahu’s bitter words, that was an “evidence of the era of hypocrisy in which we are living.”

 However, as long as Netanyahu was concerned, the rockets and the mortars found in the Clos C were only the tip of the iceberg. He quickly turned to his favorite subject: Nuclear Iran. “Just as Iran hid its deadly missiles in the belly of this ship”, he said, “Iran is hiding its actions and its intentions in many of its key installations for developing nuclear weapons.”

 Summing up, the Israeli prime minister addressed the reluctant world once again: “My message today is simple: those engaged in self-deception must waken from their slumber,” he said. “We cannot allow Iran to continue building nuclear weapons. Today, Israel exposed Iran’s attempts against its people. Tomorrow, the whole world could be involved.”

 Netanyahu’s attempt to sound the alarm echoes the words of President Kennedy, when, in his blockade speech five decades ago, he warned that the Soviet missiles in Cuba were “capable of striking most of the major cities in the Western Hemisphere, ranging as far north as Hudson Bay, Canada, and as far south as Lima, Peru.”

 I wonder if people in Lima were really terrified in 1962 at the prospect of Soviet missiles hitting them, as I’m not sure if people in Munich or Paris are losing a good night sleep today because of Netanyahu’s warning, that they are next in turn.

 What is more important, however, and here the analogy ends, is that in 1962, the president of the United States concluded that the Soviet missiles in Cuba posed such a clear and imminent danger to the security of America, that he was willing to do anything to take them out, even at the risk of a nuclear war. President Obama, on the other hand, while declaring that a nuclear Iran was “unacceptable,” and that “all the options are on the table,” reduced sanctions on Iran, thus giving diplomacy a priority over more militant courses.

 Netanyahu’s frustration is understandable, but he shouldn’t defy the president of Israel’s greatest ally, and definitely not unleash AIPAC, the Jewish lobby, to foil President Obama’s moves in Congress. What he can and should do, though, is use all the quiet channels available to keep reminding President Obama of his vows.

 In the meantime, following in the tradition that Israel should always be able to defend itself, Israel’s intelligence services and navy have already shown their excellence in capturing Clos C, so far away south of our shores. Let’s hope that President Obama’s Iranian gamble works, so that Netanyahu, as a last resort, won’t be forced to send the Israeli Air Force to the east as well.

Uri Dromi is executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club.