It was Nov. 3, 2011. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were talking on the margins of the G20 summit in Cannes. A technical glitch caused their microphones to broadcast their private conversation to the reporters in a nearby hall. “I cannot bear Netanyahu. He’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that reporters were listening to their conversation. “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied.
On July 16, after President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit in Helsinki, the two leaders appeared before journalists impatiently waiting to hear what had taken place at the meeting. It appeared that the main topic the leaders of the two superpowers agreed on was Benjamin Netanyahu. They stood there, at the conclusion of a summit of global importance, and talked about the prime minister of Israel. Trump emphasized how much Putin admires Netanyahu, while Putin praised Trump’s support of Netanyahu and Trump’s deep commitment to Israeli security.
Seven years is not the only thing separating the two above events. In the interim, the world has turned upside down: negative has turned to positive, universal contempt and scorn have morphed into global admiration. Until recently, Netanyahu had been viewed in the global arena as a serial liar and con man who could not be trusted. The Israeli prime minister was considered a troublemaker and agitator whose only aspiration was to perpetuate the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and to rule over the Palestinian people. Obama scorned him. European leaders didn’t want to hear from him. Arab leaders viewed him like a red flag. Asian countries shrugged their shoulders, and African nations weren’t interested.
Today, however, Netanyahu is seen as one of the strongest, most well-known leaders in the world, a mega celebrity in global halls of influence and a mover and shaker on the international stage. Everybody is knocking at his door. Netanyahu has transformed from persona non grata at the White House into the leader with the most influence over the current US president (if one ignores for a moment the inexplicable relationship between Trump and Putin). Netanyahu speaks often with Putin, sometimes twice a week, conducts a secret affair with most of the Sunni Arab world, is idolized in India and China, and is even leaving his mark in Central and Eastern Europe.
Several significant events influenced this process, the most important of which is the Arab Spring, which set the Middle East on fire and is only now beginning to die down. Other important issues include the Shiite-Sunni conflict, which continues to ravage a large part of the region, and of course the changing of the guard in the United States from Obama the liberal to Trump the conservative.
The old, organized world, with its politically correct and clear rules, has turned into uncontrollable chaos. Dictators are increasingly taking control under the guise of democracy and then doing everything they can to weaken democracy and strengthen their control over hubs of influence. Netanyahu is one of these, perhaps the best of them. Although Israel remains a democracy, the gatekeepers of democracy and law and order have been weakened. Checks and balances are evaporating while barriers are erected against freedom of expression, liberty and a free press.
No wonder, then, that Netanyahu has found common language with a group of European leaders, some of them members of ultra-nationalist, right-wing parties that have dubious links to anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been flirting with anti-Semitism and racism for many years, is slated to arrive in Israel July 18 as the guest of Netanyahu. According to a Channel 10 report, Netanyahu and his people are working, rather successfully, to remove the unofficial boycott of Orban and his government by the US administration.
Some two weeks ago, Israel was in an uproar over a similar incident, when Netanyahu agreed to publish a joint statement with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The July 5 statement completely accepts the nationalist, right-wing Polish narrative of everything connected to the destruction of Polish Jewry during the Holocaust. Netanyahu was accused in Israel of “selling out” on the memory of the Holocaust and assisting in whitewashing the great many crimes perpetrated by the Poles against the Jews. Many believe that Netanyahu did this to advance his alliance with nationalist right-wing governments in Eastern Europe. The Polish regime is leading the dangerous trend of systematically and forcefully weakening the courts, the press and other “gatekeepers of democracy.” These are the same things Netanyahu is doing in Israel.
None of this would have happened were it not for the Arab Spring, which shoved the Palestinian problem into a corner. Netanyahu had been trying to remove the Palestinian issue from the global agenda for as long as can be remembered, but the wholesale downfall of several regimes in the Middle East, along with the civil wars, riots and chaos that followed the collapse of the old order, turned Netanyahu’s mission into a feasible possibility. The civil war in Syria was the final, official rubber stamp on the death certificate of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It is incumbent to note, however, that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also contributed to this process with his continued intransigence.
Afterward, along came Netanyahu’s alter ego, Trump, to take the White House. Despite initial Israeli concerns, Trump became the realization of Netanyahu’s greatest fantasies. Israel, which had lost its status as a “mover and shaker” in Washington’s corridors during the Obama era, re-took the US capital by storm. Israeli influence on the US administration reached an all-time high.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer — detailed to Las Vegas during the Obama era for Republican campaign purposes under the auspice of gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson — became one of the most influential people in the new president’s inner circle. Adelson, who contributed astronomical sums of money to Trump’s campaign at decisive stages, cast his long shadow on Washington. Today, the path to Washington passes through Jerusalem. This fact is clear as day to leaders of the universe. Only recently, Israeli officials bragged about the way Netanyahu personally convinced Trump to abandon the nuclear agreement with Iran. In fact, the Israeli press on July 17 revealed that Netanyahu himself had said exactly that.
All this — added to the very long time (since 2009) that Netanyahu has sat on the premier’s throne — plus his tremendous popularity among Israelis has resulted in Netanyahu’s new status as one of the world’s important leaders. Netanyahu’s power is so great and convincing that his counterparts in other countries elegantly sidestep the elephant in the room: the criminal investigations against him that continue to advance, slowly but surely, toward the likely unavoidable decision to indict him. At the moment, however, Netanyahu dwarfs the investigations, appearing larger than life itself.
By Ben Caspit
This article has originally appeared on Al-Monitor.