By Isi Leibler
Few would envy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s role during the forthcoming months.
Whatever spin is applied, the Obama administration is refusing to draw red lines on timing prior to resorting to military action to forestall Iran’s nuclear threat. With an impending new round of “negotiations” with the Iranians virtually guaranteed to be futile, the situation for Israel remains highly disconcerting. Besides, much of the public debate on the issue is conjecture as most commentators are simply unequipped to assess the practicality of resolving the threat by military means.
But recent events in Washington do provide some grounds for optimism.
The American people and a bipartisan Congress are today more genuinely supportive about Israel’s security and well-being than they have been since the creation of the Jewish state. This was also reflected in U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to AIPAC.
Yes, during elections, many promises are made which are invariably subsequently repudiated. And yes, four years ago, when he stood for election, Obama at AIPAC also made warm statements concerning Israel.
But even allowing for election fever, Obama’s almost desperate efforts to persuade Jews and the American people that he supports Israel, “the historic homeland of the Jewish people,” went beyond anything this administration had previously expressed. And he would not have felt compelled to do so were it not for the genuinely supportive attitude of the American people.
We would have preferred the president to be more specific about his readiness to revert to a military option and he was clearly pleading for Israel to hold back and allow more time for sanctions to bite. But he has now explicitly recognized the “unacceptable” existential threat that Iran poses, not only to Israel but to the entire free world. Whether he meant it or not, he unambiguously disavowed reliance on containment and was more forthcoming than previously with regards to the employment of force should sanctions fail. His tacit approval for Israel to take whatever steps it considers necessary to defend itself was a major policy tilt from the harsh threats and warnings directed against us over recent months from various elements in the administration.
Yet by failing to specify a time frame by which diplomacy and sanctions could be deemed to have failed or to provide Iran with an ultimatum for a specific deadline, Obama is asking Israel to trust him and await the outcome of sanctions. In his time frame, military action would be unlikely prior to the elections and once re-elected, the current political pressures on him to act forcefully would be substantially eased.
Obama’s reticence is not surprising. This administration, which burned itself in successive wars in the Middle East and is currently seeking to extricate itself from the region, has little enthusiasm for military conflict with the Iranians. Obama also fears the economic repercussions which could impact on the elections if he becomes involved in a conflict with Iran in this volatile oil-producing region.
On the assumption that secret discussions behind closed doors between Netanyahu and Obama relating to a specific time schedule were inconclusive, Israel would in all likelihood be confronted with a “containment” policy by default if it blindly relied on the United States. In such a scenario, it would be of little comfort to us if the Obama administration subsequently disowns responsibility by citing failures of its intelligence agencies to adequately monitor Iran’s nuclear progress.
Netanyahu undoubtedly understands this and realizes that he must therefore independently prepare the nation to do whatever is deemed necessary to protect our national interests and ensure our survival. To this effect, complaints that Netanyahu overstated the threat by alluding to the Holocaust were entirely unwarranted. His analogy was entirely appropriate. After all, Ahmadinejad and other Iranian messianic cult leaders are today again explicitly directing genocidal threats against us and threatening to wipe us off the face of the map.
We would like to believe that the U.S. would support us if we became engaged in a military conflict with the Iranians. However, when one observes the indifference of the civilized world, including that of the Obama administration toward the current slaughter in Syria and recollects how, despite firm undertakings, the U.S. and others failed to support Israel prior to the 1967 Six-Day War, we require little persuasion to be convinced that ultimately we must rely on ourselves.
Netanyahu must therefore intensify efforts to clarify Obama’s future intentions and continue pressing the administration, at the very least, to strengthen sanctions, building on the goodwill which currently prevails among the American people. Even if re-elected, Obama must take into account public opinion and if Congress retains its strong bi-partisan support for Israel, it may at least inhibit a return to the bad old days.
On the other hand, Obama did not exaggerate when he boasted to AIPAC that his recent speech at the U.N. was the most pro-Israel address ever made by a U.S. president at a global forum. Nor can one fault our defense relationship with the U.S. which remains at an all-time high.
But expressions of love and abundant use of clichés such as “our unbreakable bonds” and “I have Israel’s back” are insufficient. The Palestinian issue will invariably return to the fore. Despite years of bullying us diplomatically, Obama has yet to condemn the Palestinians for their incitement, terrorism, intransigence and refusal to indulge in negotiations. We need clarification of U.S. support for the major settlement blocs and defensible borders as it is abundantly clear that the Obama prescription of Israel retaining 1967 armistice lines plus ‘mutual’ swaps will never be achieved with the current Palestinian leadership. Above all, he should decisively reject the “Arab refugee right of return” which if implemented would lead to our demise. If he moves in this direction, we could say that despite his former displays of animosity toward Netanyahu and his obsession with appeasing the Muslim world, his words of support are meaningful and not merely electoral rhetoric.
Viewed overall, Netanyahu’s visit to Washington achieved the best possible outcome. He can certainly take major credit for having effectively raised awareness of the Iranian threat to its highest global level. He has played the good cop-bad cop approach and clearly succeeded in encouraging Obama to adopt a far more positive attitude in relation to our existential concerns about Iran.
Regrettably, much of our future course of action remains in limbo. But we should constantly remind ourselves that notwithstanding the intensified feral hostility from our regional neighbors, we have never been in a stronger military position. And despite Obama’s subsequent warnings that a premature strike would “have consequences for the U.S. as well as Israel,” Obama has effectively provided Israel with a green light to act as it considers necessary to defend its vital interests if sanctions fail to deter the Iranians.
We should also feel satisfied that when Netanyahu told AIPAC: “As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation,” he meant it and that the Jewish state guarantees that the Jewish people have the capacity to defend themselves and overcome their adversaries.
The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.