Why Netanyahu Backed Down


New York Times - October 13, 2012

Graham T. Allison Jr. is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Prof. Shai Feldman is Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center and Co-Chair of the Crown-Belfer Middle East Project at the Harvard Kennedy School 

FOR three years Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, seemed to be united in urging an early military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But last week that alliance collapsed, with Mr. Netanyahu accusing Mr. Barak of having conspired with the Obama administration, in talks behind his back.

The clash came as a surprise in Israel, but in hindsight, there was a prelude — the speech Mr. Netanyahu delivered a week earlier to the United Nations General Assembly. In a memorable cartoonish graphic, Mr. Netanyahu depicted a “red line” that he said Israel would not let Iran cross. But he also acknowledged that Iran would not be able to cross it until next spring or summer. In doing so, he essentially reset the urgency of his warnings and ended speculation that Israel might mount a unilateral attack on Iran before the American presidential election.

The public row with Mr. Barak illustrated the magnitude of Mr. Netanyahu’s retreat and his difficulty in explaining it. He was left with implying that he had been undermined, if not betrayed by, his own defense minister. But that was not the full story of why he had blinked. ...