Sadat Was Also Called a Clown

There are incredible similarities between the challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces in 2013 and the one Egyptian President Anwar Sadat faced in 1973.

Netanyahu wants to deny Iran nuclear weapons, Sadat aspired to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt − and in both cases the leaders sought to achieve a strategic achievement despite knowing from the outset that their inferior power would make “victory” impossible.

The solution they came up with is also similar: Launch a war with limited objectives so as to spur diplomatic processes sponsored by the great powers.

Like Sadat, who repeatedly warned that he would go to war and was described by his rivals as a clown, Netanyahu too is suffering assaults on his credibility and courage.

Former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin said last week that Iran has already crossed the red line for uranium enrichment that Netanyahu drew during his speech to the UN General Assembly in September − or, at best, will cross it this summer. Yadlin also stated that Israel was capable of attacking Iran alone and dealing with the consequences. What Yadlin, one of those who bombed the Iraqi reactor in 1981, was essentially saying was, “Bibi, you’re a shmatte.”

Contrary to what his critics say, Netanyahu is not eager to attack Iran just to go down in history as a hero. He is convinced that an Iranian nuclear bomb would change the world and threaten Israel’s existence, and he is convinced that he is responsible for preventing the “second Holocaust” the Iranians are planning against the Jewish people.

The weighty arguments against military action are well known to him, too: The Iranian nuclear facilities are far away and well-defended, the U.S. administration opposes an Israeli strike, Israel’s own security chiefs are hesitant, and the Israeli home front would be hit by missiles. But these arguments haven’t weakened his hand. He is continuing with his public threats and is slowly boxing himself into a corner.

Netanyahu’s moves are similar to the ones made by Sadat before the Yom Kippur War: waiting patiently for America’s futile diplomatic moves to play out, assuming they’ll fail, garnering support from the international community and appealing to the United Nations, assuming that the status quo is unacceptable ‏(Israel controlling the Sinai; Iran getting close to a nuke‏).

In both cases the sponsoring superpower opposed its client-state going to war, but in spite of its objections it supplied the client with crucial advanced weaponry before the operation ‏(Soviet Scud missiles to the Egyptians; the U.S. refueling planes to the Israel Defense Forces‏).

Sadat exploited his “oil weapon” to deter the West from supporting Israel and to extract concessions from the United States. Netanyahu is now using the energy weapon against Iran, but in the opposite way: Oil prices are now low and America is slowly liberating itself from dependence on Middle Eastern oil. That means Iran is losing its doomsday weapon − the ability to paralyze the world’s developed economies.

American commentators who visited here last week came away with the impression that the strategic circumstances couldn’t be better for an Israeli strike: Iran is bogged down in the Syrian civil war and Hezbollah is struggling to maintain its status in Lebanon. Similarly, Sadat planned the Yom Kippur War for just when Israel was busy on other another front, having found itself overwhelmed by Palestinian terrorism. Even the domestic position of the enemy is similar. Iran is preparing for presidential elections, just as Israel, in 1973, was gearing up for Knesset elections.

There’s no way to know − and one assumes that even Netanyahu doesn’t know − if when the moment of truth arrives he will have the guts to order a strike on Iran. Sadat also was hesitant until the afternoon of that fateful Yom Kippur. The only thing that’s clear is that leaders often bring their countries and their armies to a point where there’s no choice but to act − and that Israel is approaching that point.

In a few months Israel will mark the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War and will surely engage in its annual breast-beating over the missed diplomatic opportunity, the intelligence failure and the humiliation in the containment battles in the Sinai. It would behoove us to devote some time to analyzing and understanding Sadat’s moves. They have great practical significance. 

PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in front of a backdrop of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin.Credit: AP

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