Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just gave his speech to the UN General Assembly. Here are my immediate takeaways from it:
Bibi is very comfortable speaking. He started off leaning casually forward, and sometimes shifted to lean to the side. Either he feels extremely confident about his position, or his shoes are too tight.
The Palestinians have been all but pushed off the international track for the near future, maybe longer. After Mahmoud Abbas’ intense, angry, and hardly conciliatory speech, in which he detailed what he saw as Israel’s purposeful and criminal policies against the Palestinians, and which ended with a plea to recognize and legitimize Palestine, Bibi hardly mentioned the Palestinians.
He did begin his speech with an indirect response to Abbas, by arguing that the Jewish people have outlived all their enemies, and would never be uprooted from their homeland. After that, he called directly for a “demilitarized” Palestinian state that explicitly recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. There is some room to negotiate over these positions, but probably not in way they were formulated here. I don’t see how the explicit demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is anything but a non-starter for Palestinians.
The rest of the speech carried on the theme of his 2011 UNGA speech: casting world politics as enmeshed in an epic struggle between a seemingly-massive wave of radical, militant, medieval Islamists, and defenders and promoters of modernity—the latter in which he placed Israel by referencing its start-up-nation-type of inventions and accomplishments (and perhaps gently chiding audiences members who were using their smartphones, by referencing Israeli technological ingredients in them). His reference to Bernard Lewis certainly underlined this Manichean vision.
And then, of course, there was Iran and its nuclear program. Bibi placed Iranian leaders in that category of unrelenting, wild-eyed Islamists (yet seemingly rational ones who could yet be convinced to drop their nuclear ambitions). The use of his cartoonish bomb chart engendered much hearty mocking on Twitter, but there was some debate whether it would distract from his message (the world needs to stop Iran) or enhance it (look how close Iran is to its goal and destabilizing the world).
Personally, I’m not convinced Bibi was thinking in these broader strategic terms, but just going ahead with what he thought was a good visual to make his point. As Ron Kampeas points out, he has a history of using images to clarify his demands and concerns. It’s what he does, mostly—I assume—because he thinks people just don’t get what he’s trying to warn them of. (Though Ali Gharib has pointed out the contradictory nature of Bibi’s comments.)
If the Palestinians aren’t of interest and Iran is, what, then, was Bibi trying to accomplish with his sweeping and colorful rhetoric? My guess: he was simply trying to keep Iran on the agenda, to highlight the urgency of it before it gets forgotten about as the American presidential election gets closer, to let the incoming US president know that right after he takes office he needs to deal decisively with Iran, and to inform everybody else that they are all threatened and that he will never give up on the issue.
In short, this was simply one more very public event for Bibi to continue hammering at the theme of the Iranian threat. The emphasis was widely expected, and we should expect the same ideas for the next several months.