Hillary Clinton with Tom Donilon 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Like a kid at the circus, Israel just can’t get enough of the different
First it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who came to Israel
earlier this month and in some of the harshest rhetoric yet by a senior member
of the Obama administration, declared that the US would use “all elements of
American power” to stop Iran.
Next were Thomas Donilon and John Brennan –
US President Barack Obama’s senior security and counter-terror advisers – who
came to Israel to coordinate moves on Iran and Syria. Their visits were followed
up with Obama’s signing into law the new United States-Israel Enhanced Security
Cooperation Act last Friday.
Then came Republican presidential candidate
Mitt Romney whose aides told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday that as president,
the former governor would support Israel’s decision to unilaterally attack
Wednesday will top off this round of “Who’s a better friend to
Israel?” with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s visit, which will include a
tour of an Iron Dome counter-rocket defense battery the US is helping to
Israel understands that it is being used as something of a pawn
in a larger chess match that really doesn’t have much to do with
But even if it is being used it doesn’t really mind since in the
meantime it is enjoying the show and is also reaping some benefits.
the round of visits are clearly connected to the US presidential elections,
Panetta, Clinton and Donilon are also trying to get Israel to give the US and
the international community more time to stop Iran with sanctions and
A new round of sanctions is expected to go into effect next
week and the US hopes that it will contribute to Iran’s growing
But this does not mean that Israel isn’t looking to obtain
something tangible from these visits. Last time Panetta visited Israel in
October, he seemed to walk away with the impression that an Israeli strike
against Iran would take place between April and June.
While that never
happened, the publication of that prediction in The Washington Post helped
create the panic Israel had been working to cultivate over the past couple of
years, leading to the imposition of additional rounds of sanctions on the
However, when he meets on Wednesday with Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta will most likely
walk away without the calming assurances he might otherwise have hoped for.
Israel has an interest in remaining ambiguous about its intentions on Iran and
if, when and how it will act.
In addition to discussions on regional
issues, Israel is also likely to try and understand from Panetta the
significance of the new bill Obama passed into law on Friday.
media have hyped up the bill’s inclusion for example, of the potential sale of
refueling tankers, Israel is not looking to buy new tankers – especially old and
used American ones it does not have experience using.
Instead, the Air
Force prefers to wait for Boeing to complete development of the US Air Force’s
future tanker and then buy some of those once they hit the market.
bill also calls for increased support of the development of missile defense
That has been going on for decades and according to some
estimates, the US has poured over a billion dollars into systems like the Arrow,
David’s Sling and Iron Dome over the years.
In other words, the bill
basically mentions everything that the Obama administration has been doing for
Israel and vows to keep at it. One official from a US-based Jewish group
nevertheless stressed that while the bill is an affirmation of what Congress
would support, it will ultimately be up to the president to choose to do
For that reason, when hailing the bill on Friday, Barak
specially mentioned the $70m. the US recently pledged for the Iron Dome, but
nothing else. That is because there is nothing yet tangible to speak
Panetta’s trip might change that.