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Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler:Can Obama be trusted?

Isi Leibler, posted March16, 2012

Few would envy Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‘s role during the forthcoming months.

Whatever spin is applied, the Obama Administration is refusing to draw red lines in relation to military action to forestall Iran’s nuclear threat. In fact there is no clear indication of what their response would be to such an eventuality. Besides, much of the public debate on the issue is conjecture as most commentators are simply not equipped to evaluate the obstacles to resolving the threat by military means.

But recent events in Washington do provide grounds for optimism.

Not since the creation of the Jewish state has there been a more genuinely supportive attitude towards Israel’s security and wellbeing by the American people and a bipartisan Congress than what currently prevails.

This was also manifested in the positive statements related to Israel contained in President Obama’s speech to AIPAC.

Yes, during elections, many promises are made which are invariably subsequently repudiated. And yes, Obama also made warm statements concerning Israel at AIPAC four years ago when he stood for election and subsequently reversed his position.

But even allowing for election fever, Obama’s almost desperate efforts to persuade Jews and the American people that he supports Israel 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 articulated a clear-cut recognition of the “unacceptable” existential threat that Iran poses not only to Israel but to the entire free world. Whether he meant it or not, he clearly disavowed reliance on containment and was more forthcoming than previously with reference to the employment of force if 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 from various elements in the administration over recent months.

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, this would mean that military action would be unlikely prior to the elections and once re-elected, he would no longer be subject to the current political pressures.

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 sensitive oil-producing region.

On the assumption that secret discussions behind closed doors were inconclusive and in the absence of a definite time schedule with the US, Israel cannot blindly rely on the United States. Otherwise, it may face a "containment" policy by default. 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 certainly understands this and realizes that he must therefore independently prepare the nation to do what is considered necessary for our survival and national interests

We would like to believe that the US would support us if we became engaged in a military conflict with the Iranians. However, notwithstanding the improved atmosphere in Washington, when one observes the indifference of the civilized world, including the Obama Administration, towards the current slaughter in Syria and recollects how, despite firm undertakings, the US 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 obtain clarification of Obama’s future intentions and continue pressing the administration, at the very least, to strengthen sanctions,building on the goodwill which currently prevails amongst the American people. Even if reelected, 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.

Obama did not exaggerate when he boasted to AIPAC that his last speech at the United Nations was the most pro-Israel address ever made by a US President at a global forum. Nor can one fault our defense relationship with the United States which remains at an all-time high.

But expressions of love and abundant use of clichés such as "our unbreakable bonds" are insufficient. Despite years of bullying us diplomatically, Obama has yet to condemn the Palestinians for their incitement, intransigency and refusal to indulge in negotiations. We need clarification of US 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 towards Netanyahu and his obsession to appease the Muslim world, his words of support are meaningful and not merely electoral rhetoric.

Under the circumstances Netanyahu’s visit to Washington achieved the best possible outcome and he can take credit for having raised awareness of the Iranian threat to its highest global level. He has played the good cop - bad cop approach and clearly made a major contribution towards ensuring that President Obama adopts a far more positive attitude with regard 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 our weaknesses and the intensified feral hostility from our regional neighbors, we have never been in a stronger military position. And despite warnings that a premature strike would “have consequences for the US as well as Israel”, President Obama has effectively provided Israel with a green light to act as it considers necessary to defend its vital interests.

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 and capability to defend itself and overcome its adversaries.
             The writer’s website can be viewed at 

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