Guest Article: The View from Olympus: The North Korean Threat to China

By William S. Lind

America’s fixation on the threat from North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons evinces the usual American dive into the weeds.  If we instead stand back a bit and look at the strategic picture, we quickly see that the North Korean threat to China is far greater than its threat to us.

North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the United States.  However, if North Korea retains its nuclear weapons, it is likely to lead South Korea, Japan, and possibly Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam to go nuclear themselves.  From the Chinese perspective, that would be a strategic catastrophe. 

China has never sought world domination, nor is it likely to do so.  Its distaste for barbarians, who include everyone not Chinese, is such that it wants to maintain its distance from them.  However, maintaining that distance requires a buffer zone around China, which historically China has sought and is seeking again now.

At present, the main obstacle to creating that buffer zone of semi-independent client states is the United States.  That is a strategic blunder on our part.  Such a buffer zone is no threat to the U.S. or to its vital interests.

However, China knows American power is waning and the American people are tired of meaningless wars on the other side of the world.  Despite America, China’s influence on the states in her proximity is rising.  She can afford to be patient.

In contrast, if the states on China’s periphery get nuclear weapons, her quest to dominate them is permanently blocked.  An American presence is no longer required to balk her ambitions.  Even weak states such as Vietnam can stop her cold if they have nukes.  Her border states, instead of serving as a buffer, become dangerous threats sitting right on her frontiers.  Even if she should defeat one of them, the damage she would suffer in a nuclear exchange would knock her out of the ranks of the great powers and might cause her to come apart internally, which is the Chinese leadership’s greatest fear because it has so often happened throughout her history. 

President Trump will soon be visiting China.  If he and those around him ask the all-important question, “What would Bismarck do?”, they should be able to motivate China to finally do what is necessary with North Korea, namely give it an offer it cannot refuse.

The script runs roughly like this.  President Trump makes the case about the need to restrain North Korea’s nuclear program.  Instead of threatening trade or other measures if China refuses, he simply says, “If North Korea retains its nukes and delivery systems, we can no longer advise our allies in Asia not to go nuclear.  We will of course regret such nuclear proliferation, but we will also understand why they have to develop their own nuclear weapons.  In some cases, we may find it necessary to assist them with delivery systems such as missile-equipped submarines.  Of course, nuclear weapons in the hands of our allies are not a threat to the United States.”  He need not add that they will be a threat to China.

Nation’s foreign policies are not motivated by other nation’s needs.  Beijing does not care about the threat North Korean nukes pose to the U.S.  But nations are motivated by their own interests, and if we put North Korea’s nukes in this context, the context of the strategic threat reactions to them pose to China, that is a different kettle of fish.

In turn, we need to remember Bismarck’s dictum that politics is the art of the possible.  North Korea is unlikely to give up all its nuclear weapons.  However, at the demand of Beijing, Pyongyang can probably be brought to limiting their number and the range of their delivery systems.  Beijing could also offer to put an anti-missile system such as the Russians’ S-400 on North Korea’s border to shoot down any South Korean first strike.  North Korea could still use its few nukes to deter an American first strike, even if they could not reach beyond South Korea.

Are the Pentagon, State Department, and White House capable of Bismarckian Realpolitik? President Trump’s own instincts lead him that way.  Whether his administration can follow is open to doubt.

What to Do?

While tensions in Korea have gone down, those in the Middle East, specifically along Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, are going up. As a flurry of consultations in Tel Aviv, Washington DC, and Sochi shows, they are higher today than at any time since Israel invaded Lebanon back in 2006.

That round, let me remind you, got underway when Hezbollah, apparently in the hope of freeing some of its prisoners who were being held by Israel, kidnapped some Israeli soldiers and killed several others. This led to what the Israelis call the Second Lebanese War, which ended with a smashing Israeli victory. Not because Hezbollah was finished—it was not—but because, for what is now more than a decade, it lost its will to take on Israel. And not because Israel’s forces performed particularly well—especially on the ground, they did not. But because their sheer firepower, mercilessly delivered over a period of some six weeks, taught Sheikh Nasrallah, his Hezbollah organization, and Lebanon’s population in general a lesson they did not quickly forget.

Now, with the Syrian civil war perhaps—perhaps, I say—finally starting to wind down, the situation is changing. Hezbollah’s recent victories against Daesh and other anti-Assad organizations have raised its morale and made it feel more confident in its own capabilities. Behind Hezbollah is Iran, which is intent on gaining some kind of presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and is using its anti-Israeli policy as a sort of battering ram to enter the Arab world. And behind Iran there is Russia. Like Iran, Russia wants a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Unlike Iran, it has no particular reason to oppose Israel, let alone engage in hostilities with it. Especially because doing so may very well cause complications with the U.S. On the other hand, it also has no particular reason to restrain Iran or Iran’s client, Hezbollah.

In my post of last week, My Meeting with Mr. X, I argued that never since 1945 have two nuclear powers engaged each other in earnest. Instead calm—albeit often a tense one—has prevailed. So, first of all, between the superpowers. So, later on, between the Soviet Union and China. So between China and India, and so, since at least the 1999 “Kargil War” (which in reality, was not a war at all, only a skirmish between minuscule forces over impossibly difficult terrain along an impossibly difficult border), between India and Pakistan. In all those cases, to quote Winston Churchill, some form of peace has become the sturdy child of terror. Hence the idea, presented to me in a half-joking, half serious, manner, of periodically assembling the world’s heads of state so as to show them the damage nuclear weapons can really cause.

So what to do? I am not worried about an Iranian nuclear arsenal. As I have argued before, there is excellent reason to believe that such an arsenal, far from leading to war between Israel and Iran, will force both sides to behave more responsibly than they do now. Not to speak of preventing Benjamin Netanyahu from ever realizing his threat to attack. Rather, the real crux of the problem is formed by the fact that Hezbollah, unlike Israel, does not possess a nuclear arsenal. Paradoxically, but as also happened during the October 1973 War (and, some say, the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falklands), it is precisely this fact which, in a certain sense, gives it a free hand and enables it to confront the Israelis without fear of nuclear retaliation and escalation.

So following the logic of my friend, Mr. X, here is what I propose. Let Israel, or anyone else who is feeling generous, hand Nasrallah a few bombs. Big or small, old or new, as long as they have the word NUCLEAR written on them in giant letters it does not really matter. Complete with their safety devices, so as to put responsibility for anything that may happen squarely on his shoulders. Without ifs and without buts.

And then, as the Jewish prayer has it, there will be peace upon Israel.

The Punk(s)

Now that Vice President Mike Pence has finished glaring across Korea’s demilitarized zone and things have calmed down a little, it may be time to take stock. Neither North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, nor his father, nor his grandfather, are or were nice people. The first established, the second and the third led, regimes as horrible and as totalitarian as any in history. To recall what Socrates once said about tyrants, had it been possible to open their souls it would have been found to be full of scars.

All three have often been called a danger to world peace, and Un himself has been described as a “punk.” Ever since the Korean War ended in 1953, the North has in fact been responsible for countless incidents, some of them dangerous indeed, along its border with the South. The number of people killed in these incidents runs into the hundreds. However, in Pyongyang favor it must be said that it has not fought a single war in or against any of its neighbors. Let alone countries far from its borders.

During this same period of sixty-four years the great, benevolent, apple pie-eating, mother-loving, and God-fearing American democracy, invariably inspired by the dream of liberty, equality and justice for all, has:

– Tried (and failed) to invade Cuba in 1961;

– Blockaded Cuba in 1962 (this particular act of war, probably the most dangerous in the   whole of history, almost led to a nuclear holocaust);

– Sent its troops to Vietnam (1963), where they waged war until 1973;

– Invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965;

– Invaded Cambodia in 1970;

– Sent troops to Lebanon in 1982;

– Invaded Grenada in 1983;

– Invaded Panama in 1989;

– Invaded Iraq in 1991;

– Invaded Somalia in 1993;

– Invaded Haiti in 1994;

– Bombed Bosnia in 1995;

– Bombed Iraq in 1998-99;

– Waged war against Serbia in 1999;

– Invaded Afghanistan in 2001;

– Invaded Iraq in 2003;

– Bombed Libya in 2011;

– Raided Yemen in 2017;

– Bombed Syria in 2017.

This list does not include US support, some of it military, to revolutions and counter-revolutions in countries such as Iran (1953), Indonesia (1965), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1979-90), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003, the Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005). Directly or indirectly, Washington’s praiseworthy deeds have led to the death of millions of people.

With one exception (Afghanistan in 2002) all the bombings, invasions and interventions took place in countries that, with the worst will in the world, did not have what it takes to endanger to the mighty US. Without exception, they took place in countries that were small, weak, and often so far away that the average US citizen had never heard about them. Proving that, if you are a small, weak country, even one located on the other side of the world from the US, and plan to disobey Washington’s will while avoiding its oh-so tender mercies, the first thing you need are nukes and delivery vehicles to put them on target.

So can anyone please tell me who the punk)s( are?

In Re. Iran

Like most people, I am not terribly familiar with the complicated rules that govern the way the US Congress works and votes. Unlike most people, in re. Iran I do not think it matters very much. That is why I allow myself to look into the future as best I can. images

  1. Whatever happens, the Mullahs are not going to give up their nuclear program. Partly that is because of the number of times the US has waged war in or against foreign countries over the last half century or so. Partly because, not counting the US forces in the Gulf, they have three nuclear neighbors right in their backyard; and partly because Israel, which is not an NPT member, has repeatedly threatened to bomb them. That does not mean they are going to test any time soon. What it does mean is that they will continue to shape the program in such a way as to allow them to build the weapons fairly quickly in case they feel under threat. They will also continue to build increasingly sophisticated delivery vehicles in the form of ballistic missiles and, perhaps, cruise missiles.
  2. Whatever happens, the same Mullahs are not going to drop their bomb, if and when they have it, on anyone. No more so than the other members of the nuclear club, i.e. the US, the Soviet Union/Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea (which has recently resolved the latest of its countless crises with the South) did. It is indeed possible that the Iranians, in an attempt to further their political interests, will threaten to use the bomb. If so, however, they will hardly be able to do so in more crude and blatant a way than Truman did in 1948, Khruschev in 1956, Kennedy in 1962, Nixon in 1973, and so on and so on.
  3. Whatever happens, several other countries in the Middle East are going to push their nuclear programs forward. Just so as to be on the safe side. Among them are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Jordan as well. The only question is, how fast they will proceed and how long it will take them to produce results (whatever that may mean).
  4. Whatever happens, Iran’s nuclear program will continue to figure large in the ongoing wars between Democrats and the Republicans. Considering that elections are only a little more than a year away, and also the importance of the Jewish-American vote, this is just too good an issue for either side to drop. And even should they want to do so, there will always be Netanyahu to stir up things and ensure that they don’t.
  5. Whatever happens, the sanctions will gradually come to an end. Already now Russia, by agreeing to sell Iran SA-300 surface-to-air missiles, has occasioned a major breach in the international consensus. Delegations from China, Germany, France and Japan are flooding Tehran, seeking opportunities for trade. Pressure in this direction can only increase. History will not stand still merely because President Obama cannot agree with Congress, or the other way around. At a time when the world economy seems to be faltering, by and large the return to normalcy is a good thing. It should cause the price of oil to fall. Until it starts rising again, of course.
  6. Whatever happens, and occasional talk about an eventual nuclear-free Middle East notwithstanding, Israel will continue to maintain a formidable nuclear arsenal. One fully capable of wiping out Iran and/or quite some other countries within striking range of its ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, fighter-bombers, and submarines. Probably meaning, even without taking the submarines into account, at least three and a half thousand kilometers from Tel Aviv.
  7. Whatever happens, Netanyahu, as long as he stays in power, will continue to huff and puff about the “Iranian threat” and the urgent need to counter it. Partly he will do so in order to impress his electorate which, following years of sustained propaganda, has become paranoid and believes that no Iranian ever thinks of anything except for getting to paradise with its seventy-two “big breasted” virgins. And partly because, each time he does so, the spigots open and Israel gets more and more weapons from the US and Germany in particular. Speaking to the New York Times, Obama personally has offered help in building “a successor to Iron Dome.” Israeli reports also have it that he is prepared to help in finding solutions to the problem posed by the “attack tunnels” Hamas, and perhaps Hezbollah, are digging along the borders of the Gaza Strip and Southern Lebanon respectively.
  8. Whatever happens, Netanyahu, as long as he stays in power, will not launch an offensive against Iran. Partly that is because some of his advisers have repeatedly told him that such a strike may very well fail to achieve its aim. Partly because of the fear of Iranian retaliation, which is certain to follow; and partly because he knows that the US opposes to such a strike and may not rush to his assistance in case he runs into difficulties. Above all, however, it is because, as the so-called Barak tapes have recently shown once again, the man does not have the necessary guts. The only opponents he will wage war on are very weak ones such as Hamas.

And once he is gone? Remember that, a decade ago, Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, a much braver man than he, also threatened to attack Iran. And that nothing came of it at that time either.

Hiroshima, or Then There Will Be Ten

Exactly seventy years ago, on 6 August 1945, the US dropped the world’s first nuclear device on Hiroshima. Three days later it dropped the second one on Nagasaki. The total number of those who died either on the spot or later, as the result of radiation, was probably between 150,000 and 200,000. President Truman’s reasons for using the bomb have been in dispute ever since.

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“Ways toward nuclear disarmament–PIR Center”

What has not been in dispute is that, ever since, the US has done everything it could to prevent other countries from obtaining the weapons it already had. Not that I blame it; any other Power in its position would have done exactly the same. The first country to which the policy was applied was Stalin’s Soviet Union. In 1941-45 Stalin had been known as “Uncle Joe.” Now, within the space of a few weeks or months, he was turned into a monster. One which, in some ways, was even worse than Adolf Hitler. Stalin was an atheist. Stalin was a Communist. Stalin was hell-bent on dominating the world. In seeking to realize that objective, he recognized no moral laws whatever. It was, all of it, in vain. Four years after Hiroshima the Soviet Union did in fact test its first bomb. And what happened? Nothing. Stalin did not invade Europe, as had been feared. Let alone unleash a third world war.

Confronted by a fait accompli, Washington switched it attention to its own allies, Britain and France. One could not, of course, accuse them of being atheists, or Communists, or non-democratic. Let alone of presenting a danger to the US, or seeking to dominate the world, or whatever. Some more benign reasons had to be invented. Some more benign reasons were invented. Such as, for example, the claim that, once the British and the French possessed their own nuclear arsenals, the Soviets might think they could attack them without necessarily involving the US, thus weakening NATO. The consequences would be terrible. Again, their efforts availed the Americans nothing, Britain tested its first bomb in 1952, France in 1960. And what happened? Nothing.

Next it was the turn of China. Its leader, Mao Zedong, was even worse than Stalin. Let alone his successors who, as détente took hold, had turned into more or less “responsible” and “calculable” actors. Mao was a revolutionary. Mao was a dictator. Mao was a Communist. Mao was a mass murderer. Had he not supported North Korea? Had he not sworn to regain Taiwan? Had he not dared call the US a paper tiger? And did not Khrushchev say that he had said that he was prepared to sacrifice three hundred million lives so as to put an end to imperialism? How could one permit such a man to put his finger on the trigger? In October 1964, he did. And what happened? Nothing.

Unlike China, Israel was a tiny country of two and a half million tucked away in the Middle East. It was also democratic. By no stretch of the imagination did it present a danger to the US or any of its allies. And yet the US under Kennedy did what it could to prevent Jerusalem from going nuclear. So much so that, by some accounts, Prime Minister Ben Gurion resigned over this very issue. This time the rationale was that an Israeli bomb would immediately lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. With Egypt, as the largest Arab country, in the lead. In fact, that did not happen. As of 2015, Egypt still does not have the bomb.

In 1974 the Indians set off what they called a “peaceful nuclear explosion” (PNE). No sooner had they done so than America’s ambassador to New Delhi, Daniel Moynihan, went to the foreign ministry. You have, he lectured them, done a terrible thing. Not because India might use the bomb, but because it would cause the “Moghuls” in Karachi to build a bomb of their own. By that logic, incidentally, the US should have avoided building the bomb out of fear that the Soviet Union would follow.

In the event, Moynihan was right. Ten years or so later, the “Moghuls” did in fact go nuclear. In 1998 both India and Pakistan tested their bombs. And what happened? Nothing.

And then it was the turn of North Korea. Everyone knew that the people in Pyongyang were as bad as anyone could be. They had set up a terrible dictatorship. They had developed a strange doctrine, known as Juche and roughly translatable as “we ourselves.” They starved their own people. They staged some dangerous incidents along the border between them and South Korea. They had the regime’s opponents torn to pieces by dogs (though this particular accusation later turned out to be a figment of someone’s imagination). In 2006, to the accompaniment of dire warnings, they tested their first bomb. And what happened? Nothing.

The logic behind the “international,” read mainly American, attempts to prevent proliferation is clear enough. Since 1945 no country has gone to war more often, and against as many opponents scattered all over the world, as the US has. Nor has any country more readily threatened to use its nuclear weapons. After all, it had far more of them than anyone else did. Conversely, each time another country obtains the bomb the number of those the US can attack without risking nuclear escalation goes down by one.

And then it was the turn of Iran. Iran is not a democracy (as if, judging by the fact that, in the past, quite some non-democratic countries acquired the bomb, it matters). Iran is not transparent (ditto). Iran supports terrorism (ditto). Should it develop the bomb, then that bomb may fall into the hand of terrorists. Etc., etc. Note that the rationales keep adapting themselves to circumstances. However, the objective remains always the same.

That is also why the details of the agreement with Iran, about which so much is being said and written, do not really matter. The controls may or may not be effective. They may or may not expire after ten years. Regardless, the Mullahs will continue their nuclear program so they can build the bomb if and when they need it. Partly that is because Iran is surrounded by nuclear countries on all sides. Partly, because of America’s habit of sending it troops to fight in or against other countries, with reason or without. One way or another, they will keep it in operation whether the rest of “the world,” agrees or not.

That is why, sooner or later, out of hundred and ninety or so countries on this earth there will be not nine nuclear ones but ten. And very little, if anything, will happen.

More May Be Better

“More may be better” was the title of an article published back in 1981 by the redoubtable political scientist Kenneth Waltz. Going against the prevailing wisdom, Waltz argued that nuclear proliferation might not be all bad. Nuclear weapons, he wrote, had prevented the US and the USSR from going to war against each other; as, by all historical logic since the days of Athens and Sparta in the fifth century BC, they should have done. Instead they circled each other like dogs, occasionally barking and baring their teeth but never actually biting. Such was the fear the weapons inspired that other nuclear countries would probably follow suit. To quote Winston Churchill, peace might be the sturdy child of terror.

Since then over thirty years have passed. Though Waltz himself died in 2013, his light goes marching on. At the time he published his article there were just five nuclear countries (the US, the USSR, Britain, France, and China). Plus one, Israel, which had the bomb but put anybody who dared say so in jail. Since then three (India, Pakistan, and North Korea) have been added, raising the total to nine. Yet on no occasion did any of these states fight a major war against any other major, read nuclear, power.South_African_nuclear_bomb_casings

And how about Iran? First, note that no country has taken nearly as long as Iran did to develop its nuclear program. Started during the 1970s under the Shah, suspended during the 1980s as the Iranians were fighting Saddam Hussein (who had invaded Iran), and renewed in the early 1990s, that program has still not borne fruit. This suggests that, when the Iranians say, as they repeatedly have, that they do not want to build a bomb they are sincere, at least up to a point. All they want is the infrastructure that will enable them to build it quickly should the need arise. That is a desire they have in common with quite some other countries such as Sweden, Japan, and Australia.

Second, the real purpose of the Iranian program, and any eventual bomb that may result from it, is to deter a possible attack by the U.S. Look at the record; one never knows what America’s next president is going to do. There is a distinct possibility that another Clinton, who attacked Serbia, and another Bush, who attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, will occupy the White House from 2016. Thus caution is advised. The Mullahs have no desire to share the fate of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Khadafy. The latter’s fate in particular gives reason for thought. In 2002-3, coming under Western pressure, Khadafy gave up his nuclear program. As his reward, no sooner did the West see an opportunity in 2011 than it stabbed him in the back, waged war on him, overthrew him, and had him killed. Leaving Libya in a mess from which it may never recover.

Third, Israel is in no danger. Alone among all the countries of the Middle East, Israel has what it takes to deter Iran and, if absolutely necessary, wage a nuclear war against it. What such a war might look like was described in some detail a few years ago by Anthony Cordesman, an American political scientist and former member of the National Security Council. His conclusion? The difference in size notwithstanding, the outcome would be to wipe Iran, but not Israel, off the map.

Netanyahu has Iran in his head and effectively used it to win the elections. Yet truth to say, no Iranian leader has ever directly threatened Israel. To be sure, neither Iran’s presidents nor the Mullahs like the Zionist Entity. They do not stand to attention when Hatikvah is played. They have even had the chutzpah—how dare they?—to deny the Holocaust. Yet all they have said is that, if Israel attacked them, they would respond in kind. Also that “rotten” Israel would end up by collapsing under its own weight. All this serves to divert attention away from their real purpose. That purpose, as I just said, is to deter the U.S. And to draw as much support in the Moslem world as verbal attacks on Israel always do.

Finally, morality. Are the Iranians really as bad as some people, especially Netanyahu who would like to fight Teheran to the last drop of Western blood, always claim? If so, why did Iran sign the non-proliferation treaty whereas Israel did not? During the three and a half decades since the fall of the Shah the U.S has waged war first against (or in) Grenada; then Panama; then Iraq; then Serbia (in Bosnia); then Serbia again (in Kosovo); then Afghanistan; then Iraq again; then Libya. In many of these worthy undertakings it was supported by its allies which, like jackals, joined in the feast.

The Iranians are not angels—far from it. They have meddled in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, as they still do. They have also assisted terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. But everything is relative. They have not waged large-scale warfare against any other country. Let alone bombed it or invaded it.

And that, in the final analysis, is all that matters.

And Everything Else be Damned

netanyahu-speaks-at-un-about-iranian-bomb-2Most people think that the recent fracas between Jerusalem and Washington is about Iran. They are wrong. Should Israel and Iran engage in a nuclear exchange, says U.S Middle East expert Anthony Cordesman, then it is the latter and not the former that will be wiped off the map. Nor are the mullahs unaware of that fact. That has not prevented Israel from talking about destroying Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Both Netanyahu and his predecessors have been doing so for over a decade. Since success depends on surprise—as when it bombed the Iraqi reactor in 1981 and the Syrian one in 2007—this talk itself proves it has no serious intention of carrying out its threats. Nor is Netanyahu the man to do it. For all his frequent posturing, he does not have the guts.

The threat a nuclear Iran would pose to the United States is much smaller still. In fact it would be comparable to the one mounted by North Korea since it detonated its first device nine years ago; meaning, close to zero. Arguably, indeed, possession of the bomb would compel Tehran to become more cautious than, by most measures, it already is. Thus the bomb would contribute to stability in the Middle East, not detract from it. That, at any rate, is what, to-date, nuclear weapons have done in every single region where they have been introduced.

Amidst these questions, whether Netanyahu is or is not supported by his own security service is small potatoes. As former U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said, Israel does not really have a foreign policy. All it has are internal politics of which foreign policy is a third-rate extension. It is mainly internal politics that have driven Netanyahu to emphasize the Iranian “threat.” Not without success. Only yesterday a neighbor of mine, a highly-educated lawyer, told me that, much as he disliked Netanyahu, he was going to vote for him because of the threat in question.

Which reminds us that, in Israel, it is elections time. The last two elections were held in 2009 and 2013. In neither of them was there any question but that Likud would win and Netanyahu hold on to his dearly-beloved job. This time things are different. One reason for this is that, economically speaking, things are not going as well as they should. The outcome is high prices—for a couple of years now, not a day has passed without the media publishing comparisons with other countries, almost all of them unfavorable to Israel. In particular, the burden on young couples out to purchase their first flat has become all but intolerable.

The other reason is the creation of a new left-center party under the joint leadership of Yitzhak Herzog and former foreign minister Tziporah (“Tzippi”) Livni. Both Herzog and Livni have the charisma of earthworms. Many people, though, see them as preferable to Netanyahu who is regarded as glib and untrustworthy.

Netanyahu needs a boost. There is not much he can do about prices. Nor do people really believe him when he says, as he has been doing for some years, that he will do something. But he can try to strike poses in foreign relations. The murder a couple of weeks ago of four Jews in a French kosher supermarket seemed to present him with a great opportunity to do just that. What could be better than to be photographed while marching arm in arm with other heads of state, acting not merely as the Prime Minister of Israel but as the head of the Jewish people world-wide?

Unfortunately for him, it all went wrong. President Hollande of France, it turned out, did not really want him there. To be sure, he could hardly prohibit Netanyahu from coming. But he did take the opportunity to humiliate him by failing to receive him at the Elysée Palace. Worse still, when Netanyahu arrived there was no proper reception-party waiting to take him from the airport to town. Israel TV showed him standing in the rain, umbrella over his head, waiting for a bus and looking forlorn. Elections or not, that is not the kind of image a prime minister wants or needs.

So what to do? Unlike former Prime Ministers Menahem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu cannot claim credit for any important foreign policy deed. Like his one-time mentor, former Prime-Minister Yitzhak Shamir, all he can do is try and maintain the status quo. Partly that is because he does not have the necessary authority over his own party and the Israeli right in general. Partly because, as I said, he just doesn’t have the guts. But maintaining the status quo does not yield many votes. At any rate not enough to make him feels secure.

So use your Jewish-American card. Get yourself invited to the U.S. If not to the White House, with whose occupant Netanyahu has long been at loggerheads, then to address both Houses of Congress. The procedure is somewhat unusual, but that does not bother the prime minister too much. After all, the U.S, too, is facing elections in less than two years. Consequently the pressure it can bring to bear on Israel is limited. It is even possible that, by seeming to twist President Barak Obama’s arm, Netanyahu will actually gain some points with parts of the electorate.

And so it goes. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will huff and puff. Presumably more so behind closed doors than in public. They may even threaten to “reconsider” America’s relationship with Israel. As, for example, Gerald Ford and Kissinger did in 1975 when Rabin did not agree to a proposed interim agreement with Egypt. However, real change will only happen, if it does, after the next American elections.

By that time Netanyahu will be safely back in the saddle, or so he hopes. And everything else be damned.

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