US-Israel relations: Top 10 moments of 2012

This year, regional instability caused by Iran’s nuclear program and the Arab Spring dominated US-Israel ties.

Netanyahu and Obama shake hands 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Obama shake hands 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – January of 2012 was a cold month for relations between Israel and the United States.
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.
That’s because 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 conflict.
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Click for special JPost coverage
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 state.
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.
Steaming at 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 Iran.
But Obama deflected this, both in public and in private.
He 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 friends.
4. America stands virtually alone against the Palestinians’ UN bid.
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 later.
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 delegitimized.”
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 nations.”
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.