NEW YORK – January of 2012 was a cold month for relations between Israel and the
The year opened with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and
US President Barack Obama publicly haggling over how much time remained to stop
Iran from becoming a nuclear-capable state. Indeed, even during Operation Pillar
of Defense in November, the White House showed minimal interest in restarting
peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
this year, the instability in the region caused by Iran’s nuclear program and
the Arab Spring dominated the US-Israel relationship.
The following are
the top 10 moments in that relationship for 2012.
10. Historic military
cooperation for an austere challenge.
The largest joint military exercise
in the allies’ history took place in October of this year – rescheduled from
April, when tensions with Iran were at a peak. Code-named “Austere Challenge,”
Germany and the United Kingdom joined the United States in testing Israel’s air
defense systems, working on how to integrate existing ballistic missile defenses
with the power of international forces in the event of a larger regional
9. Obama subdues Morsi on safety in Sinai.
After 35 masked men
killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in an attempt to steal armed vehicles and storm the
Israeli border, the Obama administration convinced Mohamed Morsi, at the time
president of Egypt for only two months, to accept an American package of
assistance – including training for police, surveillance and necessary equipment
– that would reinforce a border left effectively unguarded since the Egyptian
revolution a year and a half earlier. It was the first sign that Morsi’s
government was ready to uphold the status quo with Israel, and that the US was
working to keep it that way.
8. America’s election fixates on the Jewish
Mitt Romney visited Israel during his campaign and gushed over its
innovation, ethics and people.
He saw Israel as a wedge issue to be taken
advantage of: While Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu has been famous for its
tensions, Romney and Netanyahu have been friends for decades. The Democratic
Party platform caused a stir when it dropped from its platform recognition of
Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Obama personally called on his party to
reinstate it, and shortly thereafter Jerusalem was restored as the capital, as
it “is and will remain.”
7. Netanyahu’s red line falls flat.
all the deferrals through the warm months of spring and summer, when clear skies
and hard ground make conditions ideal for military operations, Netanyahu grew
anxious with the American president in September and once again turned to
international media outlets to voice his case for urgent action against
But Obama deflected this, both in public and in private.
rejected Netanyahu’s request for a specific red line for Iranian weapons-grade
uranium, and on the popular CBS News program 60 Minutes described calls for such
a marker “noise” worth blocking out of mind and debate.
6. Iron Dome is
reinforced by Congress.
In the final weeks of 2012, Congress passed a national
defense bill that included $211 million in additional funding for Iron Dome
after it demonstrated such success in the latest conflict with Gaza; $267m. to
support the Arrow and David’s Sling air defense projects; and more sanctions on
Iran, targeting those currently trying to undermine existing sanctions by paying
for Iranian oil in gold instead of cash.
5. Obama personally snubs
Netanyahu – again.
During Netanyahu’s visit to the UN for his speech to the
General Assembly – in which he physically drew a red line across the graphic of
a cartoonish bomb at the podium – the White House claimed Obama’s schedule “did
not permit” a meeting between the president and the prime minister. This was
widely recognized as another snub in a long line of snubs that have involved
cold exchanges, tense meetings and awkward gossip with other leaders (in 2011
Obama was overheard telling then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy that he was
fed up with having “to deal with [Netanyahu]”).
The moment made one thing
clear: Strategic support may be unabating, but these two men will never be
4. America stands virtually alone against the Palestinians’ UN
When the votes were cast in the UN General Assembly, the US was one of only
nine countries to vote against granting Palestine the standing of “observer
state,” a largely symbolic status that the Obama administration saw as a
hindrance to greater peace efforts. In a failed campaign to shore up opposition
to the measure, the US delegation insisted that the sentiment was not the
problem – it was the tactics and effectiveness of the process that was chosen.
Israel announced plans for settlement construction in east Jerusalem days
3. Gaza tests US support of Israel.
Leaving President Obama to his
own devices on a critical tour of Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton departed Cambodia during Operation Pillar of Defense to secure a peace
settlement between Israel and Hamas that was brokered by the Morsi government.
She was viewed as the guarantor of the ceasefire. And in Thailand, Obama gave a
full-throated defense of Israel’s right to defend itself. “He was unambiguous,”
says David Makovsky, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy (and a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post). “It came after
the American election, so accusations that he was calculating were
2. Cyber warfare goes public.
When Flame, the
malware virus that tracked Iranian computer systems, was discovered in May, it
reinforced what was already known since 2010: Western powers were in a full
embrace of cyber espionage, bound by virtually no rules set by precedent or
international standards. But when David Sanger published a preview of his book
Confront and Conceal in The New York Times, the conversation over the merits and
dangers of this brand of warfare burst into the public sphere. Sanger’s work
confirmed that Stuxnet was a joint US-Israel operation.
“I don’t believe
either the US or Israel has ever acknowledged their offensive cyber capability,
except in the most general terms,” Sanger told The Jerusalem Post, adding that
he suspected that “in the next year or two we will begin to see such a debate
about the state-sanctioned use of cyber attacks against other
1. Israel doesn’t bomb Iran.
The greater strategic
context of all these moments speaks to the magnitude of one goal shared by
Israel and the United States: control over the time and circumstances that rule
Iran’s nuclear program. We cannot say how many moments Netanyahu has spent
mulling the order to strike.
But if his rhetoric is any indication, it is
clear there have been many. Obama’s success in holding him back effectively
ended the 2012 debate over timelines: All seem to agree that Iran will be
capable of building a nuclear weapon at some point in 2013.