By Robert Fisk
Israeli President “Bibi” Netanyahu on Guy Fawkes. The super-terrorist plans to blow up parliament and the King; the very nation will be liquidated. Fawkes was a Catholic rather than a Muslim – though Renaissance Europe was pretty good at bestialising both – but what a cartoon! I loved the curly fuse and the “flashy” bit on the end – Dan Dare versus The Mekon – and the red line drawn on the black line. It was all oh-so-convincing. Ninety per cent convincing.
Not since the last set of cartoons flourished in the UN Donkey House has the world been so gobsmacked. Then it was Colin Powell (I was in the Security Council chamber as a witness to this nonsense in 2003) who displayed his own cartoon of white-coated Iraqi chemists making weapons of mass destruction in a mobile laboratory. It was a railway train, for heaven’s sake. And, unlike Bibi’s bomb and fuse, it was actually meant to be a railway train. Cartoons, you see, can be taken literally or metaphorically. Or just plain insult the intelligence of ordinary folk; like Bibi’s – or cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, for that matter. They all go “BANG” in the end. And I can see why Israel’s sorrowful defenders had to trash Bibi’s cartoon yesterday. Sure, it was awful – but the MESSAGE, that was the thing. Don’t let the cartoon distract you from the truth (albeit that cartoons are supposed to contain an inner truth, are they not?) and the truth according to Bibi was that Iran could have a nuclear bomb “BY THE MIDDLE OF NEXT YEAR”.
But whoops! Here’s a little downgrading for the reader. “Iran is the centre of terrorism, fundamentalism and subversion and is … more dangerous than Nazism, because Hitler did not possess a nuclear bomb …” Bibi speaking on Thursday? Nope. The ex-Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, in 1996. And – I’m indebted here to the indispensable Roger Cohen – Peres himself said in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999! That’s 13 years ago. And Ehud Barak – now Bibi’s Defence Minister – said in 1996 that Iran would have a nuke by 2004. That’s eight years ago. Maybe cartoons are all that’s left.
Of course, the think-tank loonies waffled on the networks, grinning idiotically over the cartoon but nodding sagely at Netanyahu’s warning – without bothering to recall those utterly false warnings in the past. You can’t cry wolf when the wolf is called Ahmadinejad.
Bloomberg’s columnist, Lisa Beyer, remarked that Netanyahu had noted “rightly, that Israel’s intelligence agencies are superb”. They are not. Israel’s intelligence on Lebanon has been pitiful for two decades, and it was these same “agencies” who assured Powell back in 2003 that Iraq did indeed have weapons of mass destruction. Later, we somehow forgot that little bit of false Israeli “intelligence” input.
Of course, the cartoon managed to distract us from the dignified speech by the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whose condemnation of Israel’s land theft in the West Bank was infinitely more accurate than Netanyahu’s artwork. But Abbas spoke in Arabic, Netanyahu in American English. Only one man was going to be on the world’s screens yesterday. He did seem oddly hot under the collar about the UN’s almost-forgotten report on Israel’s cruelty during the 2008-9 Gaza war, when Israel’s “surgical strikes” – this is Bibi-speak – killed 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians. For a man obsessed with statistics, this one escaped Netanyahu’s memory.
But there you go. Iran is a dodgy place. Ahmadinejad is a crackpot, though he came across, in his new “moody” grey specs, as a bit more laid back than Bibi. Of course Iran’s going to have a nuke. Saddam was making one, too. Wasn’t he?