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A President's badge of honor
By STUART E. EIZENSTAT
06/09/2012
Whether Iran will give up its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons remains to be seen.
 
President Obama has demonstrated his unshakeable commitment to Israel's security in countless ways: enhancing security cooperation, passing unprecedented sanctions against Iran, and defending Israel against the Palestinian statehood bid, to name a few.

While every single US president over the past six decades has had disagreements with Israel, some of President Obama's critics have completely ignored his pro-Israel record and labeled him anti-Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are all entitled to our opinions, and certainly, we Jews have no shortage of them. We are not, however, entitled to our own facts. And the fact is that in the history of the United States, no President has shown a more singular commitment to Israel's security than President Obama. At a time of much regional upheaval that has touched every corner of the Middle East, there is no greater friend Israel can have than an American President who has proven, time and again, just how deep that commitment runs.

This fact is backed by hard evidence. I can say, as one who led the sanctions policy in the Clinton administration, that President Obama has done a masterful job at convincing the international community that it is in everyone's interest to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In an unprecedented achievement, President Obama has persuaded previously noncommittal nations such as Russia and China to support international sanctions against Tehran. Because of US leadership, the European Union has joined in an unprecedented set of financial and insurance sanctions and has taken the extraordinary step of banning new imports of all Iranian petroleum, which represents almost 20 percent of its oil exports.

Furthermore, the President has recently signed into law the toughest-ever set of sanctions against Iran and pressed congress to extend an already tough sanctions regime against Iran. He has also taken the extraordinary step of sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran, which makes it virtually impossible for the Central Bank to process any dollar-denominated transactions.

The Iranian regime is hurting. President Obama's efforts have been so effective that China, Iran's largest crude oil importer, has gone against their own economic interests by reducing their oil purchases from Iran by 22 percent compared to last year, for fear of hurting their business ties with America.  Over the past 11 months the Iranian currency has fallen by approximately 50% in value. Iran's oil exports, the lifeblood of the regime's economy, have fallen by more than 40% in the last year.  Whether Iran will give up its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons remains to be seen, which is exactly why the President's repeated declarations that the United States will take no option off the table in preventing a nuclear Iran are so vitally important.

Yet, President Obama’s leadership in strengthening the US-Israel relationship is not limited to his strong actions against Iran. President Obama’s security commitment to Israel has been unparalleled. It was President Obama who – for the first time in our nation’s history – requested $205 million in 2010 to help Israel install the remarkably successful Iron Dome rocket defense system, and who earlier this year secured an additional $70 million for that program’s expansion. It was President Obama who, in the midst of America’s worst recession since the 1930s, requested $3.1 billion in security assistance for Israel in the coming fiscal year, more than any president has ever before requested.

It was President Obama who gave an impassioned, emotional speech defending Israel against the Palestinian attempt to bypass negotiations and appeal for statehood at the UN this past September, and who has a 100% pro-Israel UN voting record. It was President Obama, responding to a personal request from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who saved the lives of Israeli diplomats in Cairo by immediately warning the Egyptian military that their relationship with the United States would face severe consequences should they not stop the brutal attack against the Israeli embassy. And it was President Obama who has enhanced Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge over its neighbors.

Any of these accomplishments, along with many others, would alone merit an honorable mention. Put together, they comprise the unquestionable record of a president who has done more than any other to ensure Israel’s security at a time of tumultuous change in the Middle East when security is Israel’s most precious commodity.

To understand Israel’s appreciation for the president’s leadership, take a look at the words of Israeli leaders themselves. Defense Minister Ehud Barak last year said of the current Administration, “I can hardly remember a better period of support” for Israel. President Shimon Peres has called President Obama “a great president and a great friend of Israel,” and referred to President Obama’s speech at AIPAC this year as “the most pro-Israel speech I have ever heard from an American president.” And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself, following the President’s speech at the UN, said the president deserved “a badge of honor” for his principled stance.

When historians write about President Obama, they will scrutinize every decision he made as president, just as we all should. But once their scrutiny has been completed, they will surely come to the same conclusion reached by these Israeli leaders and many Jewish leaders throughout our own country: that at a time when Israel needed a friend in the White House, this president was there. For that, this president can wear his pro-Israel credentials exactly the way his counterpart in Israel believes he should: as a badge of honor.

Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat served in senior positions in several presidential administrations. Under President Clinton, Eizenstat was responsible for sanctions policy against Iran, the economic dimensions of the Middle East peace process, and also served as the President Clinton’s special representative on Holocaust-era issues, negotiating more than eight million dollars in benefits for holocaust victims world-wide.
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