In his commentary in Maariv’s Friday news supplement, the paper’s senior
diplomatic commentator Ben Caspit laid out a hypothetical lecture that Obama
might give Netanyahu during the two leaders’ tete-a- tete in the Oval Office
Monday afternoon. In Caspit’s scenario, Obama used the meeting to lay
down the law to the Israeli premier.
If you bomb Iran’s nuclear
installations before the November elections, in my second term Israel will no
longer be able to buy spare parts for its weapons systems from the US. So too,
Caspit’s Obama said, the US will end its support for Israel at the UN Security
Council if Israel dares to take it upon itself to prevent Iran from crossing the
nuclear threshold before the US elections.
Perhaps Caspit wrote his
article after hearing about a meeting between American Jews and Vice President
Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Anthony Blinken. According to Commentary’s
Omri Ceren, Blinken told the assembled Jews that if Israel’s supporters discuss
Obama’s hostile treatment of Israel in the context of the election, they can
expect to suffer consequences if Obama is reelected.
It is important to
keep Blinken’s threats and Caspit’s scenario in mind when considering Obama’s
speech to AIPAC on Sunday morning.
Obama’s speech was notable for a
number of reasons. First, this was the first speech on an Israel-related theme
that Obama has given since the 2008 campaign in which he did not pick a fight
with Israel. And it is due to the absence of open hostility in his address that
Obama’s supporters are touting it as a pro-Israel speech.
While he didn’t
pick a fight with Israel on Sunday, his speech did mark a clear attempt to
undermine Israel’s strategic position in a fundamental – indeed existential –
As many commentators have noted in recent weeks, Israel and the US
have different red lines for the Iranian nuclear program. These divergent red
lines owe to the fact that the US has more options for attacking Iran’s nuclear
installations than Israel.
From Israel’s perspective, Iran’s nuclear
program will reportedly become unstoppable as soon as the Iranians move a
sufficient quantity of enriched uranium and/or centrifuges to the Fordow nuclear
installation by Qom. Since Israel reportedly lacks the ability to destroy the
facility, Israel’s timeline for attacking Iran will likely end within weeks. The
US reportedly has the capacity to successfully bomb Fordow and so its timeline
for attacking Iran is longer than Israel’s.
The reason this is important
is because it tells us the true nature of Obama’s demand that Israel give more
time for sanctions and diplomacy to work. When one recognizes Israel’s short
timeline for attacking, one realizes that when Obama demands that Israel give
several more months for sanctions to work, what he is actually demanding is for
Israel to place its survival in his hands. Again, once Iran’s nuclear project is
immune from an Israeli strike Obama will effectively hold the key to Israel’s
survival. Israel will be completely at his mercy.
To understand just how
dangerous this would be it is worth considering the other issues Obama covered
in his speech. Obama’s speech essentially boiled down to three assertions, which
he argued prove that he is the best friend Israel has ever had and therefore can
be trusted to ensure its survival.
First, Obama asserted that military
cooperation between Israel and the US has grown to unprecedented levels under
his leadership. Second, he claimed that his administration has served as
Israel’s stalwart defender in the UN and generally when it comes to the
Palestinian issue. Finally, he argued that he can be trusted to defend Israel
from a nuclear armed Iran because of the sanctions that have been imposed on
Iran by the US and the international community since he entered
The alleged expansion of US-Israel military cooperation under
Obama’s watch has served as a regular talking point for Obama administration
officials. The claim is convenient because it is based on classified information
unavailable to the general public. You and I have no way of knowing if it is
But what we do know is that under Obama’s leadership, senior US
military and defense officials have made repeated statements that are openly
hostile to Israel. Then-defense secretary Robert Gates called Israel “an
ungrateful ally.” Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanded that
Israel “get back to the damned table” with the Palestinians. General
Dempsey and his predecessor Michael Mullen have spoken disparagingly of Israel
and its military capabilities and so at a minimum gave comfort to its
Aside from these rather uncooperative comments, under Obama the
US has adopted policies and taken actions that have endangered Israel militarily
on all fronts and in fundamental ways. With Obama at the helm the US not
only stood back and allowed Hezbollah and Iran to take over Lebanon. The US has
continued to supply the Hezbollah- controlled Lebanese military with
sophisticated US arms.
Under Obama, the US intervened in Egypt’s internal
politics to empower the Muslim Brotherhood and overthrow Hosni Mubarak. The
transformation of Israel’s border with Egypt from a peaceful boundary to a
hostile one is the direct consequence of the US-supported overthrow of Mubarak
and the US-supported rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. These are
indisputable facts. Their military repercussions are enormous and entirely
Then there is Syria. For more than six months, Obama
effectively sided with Bashar Assad against his own people who rose up against
him. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Assad a reformer. Now, as Assad
butchers his people by the thousands, the US has still failed to send even
humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. Almost unbelievably, Clinton said that
Assad would have to agree to any US assistance to the people who seek his
There have been reports that the US has warned Jordan,
Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia about the possibility that Assad’s ballistic
missiles and chemical and biological arsenals may be transferred to terrorists.
Such a prospect constitutes a clear and present danger to US national security –
as well as to Israel’s national security.
Indeed, the threat of
proliferation of WMD is so dangerous that the administration could be expected
to take preemptive steps to destroy or commandeer those arsenals. Certainly it
could be expected to support an Israeli operation to do so. But according to
reports, Obama has sufficed with empty warnings to the Arabs – not Israel – that
this could perhaps be a problem.
By failing to act against Assad, the
Obama administration is effectively acting as the guardian of Iran’s most
important regional ally. That is, far from enhancing Israel’s military posture,
Obama’s behavior toward Syria is enhancing Iran’s military posture. He is acting
in a manner one would expect Iran’s ally to behave, not in the manner that one
would expect Israel’s ally to behave.
As to Iran, while Obama touts the
new anti-Iran sanctions that have been imposed since he took office as proof
that he can be trusted to take action against Iran, the fact is that Obama has
been forced to implement sanctions against his will by the US Congress and
Europe. So too, Obama still refuses to implement the sanctions against Iran’s
Central Bank that Congress passed against his strong objections earlier in the
year. As with the case of Syria – and Hezbollah in Lebanon – on the issue of
sanctions, Obama’s behavior has served to help rather than hinder Iran’s pursuit
of nuclear capabilities.
Beyond Israel’s immediate borders, and beyond
Iran, Obama’s behavior toward Turkey has had a destructive impact on Israel’s
military position and strategic posture. Obama has said that Turkey’s Islamist,
anti-Semitic Prime Minister Recip Erdogan is one of the five foreign leaders he
is closest to. He reportedly speaks to Erdogan at least once a week. The Turkish
leader prime minister is the Middle Eastern leader that Obama trusts the
Erdogan gained Obama’s trust at the same time that he ended his
country’s strategic alliance with Israel and began directly funding the Hamas
terrorist organization and providing aid and comfort to Hamas by seeking to end
Israel’s lawful maritime blockade of Gaza’s coastline.
What is notable
about Obama’s relationship with NATO member Turkey is that he has not used his
relationship with Erdogan to influence Erdogan’s behavior. Instead he has
rewarded Erdogan’s behavior.
Obama’s self-congratulatory statements about
US assistance to the development of Israel’s missile defense systems ring
depressingly hollow for two main reasons.
First, the military cooperation
agreement between Israel and the US for the development of the Iron Dome
antimortar and rocket shield was concluded and financed under President George
W. Bush due to the peripatetic actions of Senator Mark Kirk. Obama inherited the
program. And in his 2012 budget, Obama reduced US funding of the
The second reason his statements ring hollow is because his
actions as president have increased Israel’s need to defend itself from
Palestinian mortars and rockets from Gaza. Obama has empowered the Palestinians
to attack Israel at will and pressured Israel to take no offensive steps to
reduce the Palestinians’ ability to attack it.
This brings us to Obama’s
statements about his support for Israel at the UN and toward the Palestinians.
The fact is that it is Obama’s hostile position toward Israel that fuelled the
Palestinians’ rejection of negotiations with Israel. As Mahmoud Abbas told The
Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, Obama’s demand for a Jewish building freeze
convinced him that he has no reason to hold talks with Israel.
is his “support” for Israel at the UN. The fact is that the Palestinians only
sought a UN Security Council resolution condemning Jewish construction in
Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria because Obama made them think that he would
support it. It was Obama after all who called Israeli settlements
“illegitimate,” and demanded an abrogation of Jewish building rights outside the
The same is the case with the Palestinian decision to
have the UN accept “Palestine” as a member. In his September 2010 address to the
UN General Assembly Obama called for the establishment of a Palestinian state
within a year. It was his statement that made the Palestinians think the US
would back their decision to abandon negotiations with Israel and turn their
cause over to the UN.
So in both cases where Obama was compelled to
defend Israel at the UN, Obama created the crisis that Israel was then compelled
to beg him to defuse. And in both cases, he made Israel pay dearly for
The fact is that Obama’s actions and his words have made
clear that Israel cannot trust him, not on Iran and not on anything. The
only thing that has been consistent about his Israel policy has been its
hostility. As a consequence, the only messages emanating from his administration
we can trust are those telling us that if Obama is reelected, he will no longer
feel constrained to hide his hatred for Israel.
What these messages make
clear is that if our leaders are too weak to stand up to Obama today, we will
pay a steep price for their cowardice if he wins the elections in November.