30 September 2012

How did Bibi's UN speech bomb so badly?

Of course, it's easier to criticize than to create. This is why some people sit in their comfy armchairs and write two-penny posts and others lead them and millions more to the bright future. So why do I think that Bibi botched that task in NYC recently?

Yes, mostly because of this. If Bibi wanted to confuse the public regarding what is that red line he drew on the comic depiction of a bomb, so familiar to anyone who ever passed near a TV, he couldn't have chosen a better visual prop. No matter what was the message, the Looney Tunes bomb mesmerized the viewers all over the world. Witness what Dan Margalit, a journo from the most pro-Bibi newspaper, Israel HaYom (Today)* writes in his article A sigh of relief at the White House:
Standing in front of the cameras, the prime minister told the whole world that Iran's nuclear program must be stopped before it reached its final stage, when the Islamic republic will have already begun enriching uranium to 90 percent purity.

I have a highly personal(ized) opinion of Mr Margalit, and it is not complimentary at all, but, with all his mental deficiencies, he is hardly alone. Here comes one Ali Gharib, writing for The Daily Beast, with an article titled How Bibi Messed Up His Bomb Chart, with a totally messed up message about his own (mis)understanding of Bibi's visual aid:
Netanyahu actually messed up his bomb chart by drawing the red line in the wrong place. He placed the line just above the section of the chart that denotes 90 percent enriched uranium, otherwise known as "weapons-grade." With the line at the top, that suggests Iran can enrich safely up to the 90 percent level of purity, so long as they don't go over—which they won't ever need to, since 90 percent purity is good enough for a bomb.
Without any other handy recourse, I have to quote a detailed enough explanation from Haaretz (paywall):
It is likely that most viewers will mostly only remember the cartoon-like illustration of the Iranian bomb that Netanyahu pulled out mid-speech. But what he said has apparently caused much confusion even among some commentators. From a number of articles published on Friday morning, it seems as if Netanyahu was placing the Israeli red line at the point where Tehran will have enriched uranium to 90 percent (in fact, a level of 93 percent).
Presumably this is not what Netanyahu meant. 93 percent enrichment is a level sufficient for producing a nuclear weapon, which is, in any case, a red line for the entire international community (certainly where Western powers are concerned) because it constitutes a threshold ability to quickly produce a nuclear explosive device. If that is what Netanyahu meant, it is a relatively soft stance from the Israeli point of view.
The 90 percent that Netanyahu was talking of is a red line representing quantity not purity: meaning obtaining 90 percent of the amount required to produce a nuclear weapon (approx. a quarter of a ton). Keep in mind that Netanyahu is still talking about uranium enriched to 20 percent purity (the peak level reached by Iran to date), from which it will be possible to later produce a nuclear bomb, after it is further enriched. This, says Netanyahu, is a threshold that is unacceptable to Israel. Iran is expected to pass this threshold next summer, if it isn't stopped.
OK, you might say, so here we have two idiots that got it wrong. The problem is that there is a whole lot of people, not all of them idiots, who got it wrong - check out the Internet. I can also imagine that Iranians, one of the two main recipients of the message (the other one is occupying the White House at the moment), have problems deciphering it too. Possibly they are making inquiries in Jerusalem via third parties as we speak.

For fairness sake, I have to say that when I watched the speech, Bibi's explanation of the red line matched the one by Haaretz above. But of course, I could have been hypnotized by the bomb too.

At least Dan Margalit got one thing straight (unless he read it in some other place, which is a possibility that couldn't be rejected off hand):
Over at the White House, a sigh of relief could be heard; Netanyahu effectively ruled out an Israeli military campaign against Iran before the U.S. presidential elections in November. There is nothing quite as important as that date, as far as Obama is concerned.
(This is more than could be said about Boaz Bismuth, his colleague from the same paper, with his fawning (what the heck - deeply brown-nosing) piece The speech Obama didn't give. Bleh... check it out).

Another, secondary reason that Bibis' speech was a failure, is his drive for grandiosity. Half an hour of endless historical lesson, moralizing, worrying about the fate of the free world, using sentences about Iran and radical Islam like "They seek supremacy over all Muslims. They’re bent on world conquest. They want to destroy Israel, Europe, America. They want to extinguish freedom. They want to end the modern world." - what for? True or false, this grandiloquence hardly served any useful purpose, unless the purpose was to lull the UN dignitaries toward the main point: presentation of the ultimatum to Iran. And - no matter how much I hate to agree with Peter Beinart, on this point I have to: Bibi's knowledge (or understanding) of history is wanting. Why, instead of focusing on the issue he came to present, Bibi has chosen the role of the savior of the free world - beats me. In short, Bibi is consistent in one thing: constantly overplaying his hand.

And all that was to come to the Looney Tunes bomb, the focal point of the speech, that turned to be a dismal failure that will be remembered as a misplaced and confusing curio - on par with Khruschev's shoe. And not as a clear cut ultimatum. The fact is that even the Israeli media had to call upon Bibi's good services for clarifications of this "ultimatum".
Pressed specifically in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2, as to whether this meant an attack would have to come before Iran had enriched 240 kg (529 lb) of uranium to 20% purity — enough for one bomb — Netanyahu did not contest the figures.
I hope Iranians read this too, we certainly don't want to add to their pressures at this difficult time.

You can see more of the whole gamut of the responses to Bibi's performance here, if you so desire. As to why did the Bibi's media bomb fizzle out so miserably, what with his mighty team of advisers, some of them (like Bibi) American-born, many of them with rich international experience: this will, probably, remain a mystery for a long time. Unless Sarah holds the thread to unravel that one...

And meanwhile, to add another confusing item to the enchilada of confusion:
Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Friday that he does not believe military action will be necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The GOP hopeful said he discussed the issue with Netanyahu by telephone Friday afternoon, adding that it was unclear whether there is any difference between the US and Israel's so-called "red lines" on when launching military action against Iran would be appropriate. Romney said could not "completely take the military option off the table" because Iran needs to take the threat seriously.

He added that he does not believe force will ultimately be needed.

(*) Israel Hayom, the paper owned by Sheldon Adelson, received an Hebrew moniker "BibiTon", which is an Hebrew wordplay that roughly means "Bibi's newspaper".


David All said...

It is great that in the middle of a real war and peace type discussion that Bibi gave the world a bit of comic relief.
Not sure why the meme idea seems so ridiculus, after all such diagrams went over well when Reagan used them! (dry humor)

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Maybe, but I would vastly prefer he used another occasion for his sense of humor, since in this case it only enhanced the big flop.