Israel and US Are All Smiles, but Obama Team Presses and Vexes Israel
by Michael Widlanski
JERUSALEM – Israeli officials say they will not make a big scene with top Obama Administration officials visiting here these days and will continue to smile bravely publicly, but privately they are showing they are disappointed and even a bit angry with President Barack Obama and his handling of several sensitive issues:
· Obama’s stepped-up pressure on Israel not to attack Iran, especially not before the coming US presidential election;
· Obama’s strong refusal to confront Turkey over its veto of Israeli participation in NATO exercises as well as top-level counter-terror talks.
· Obama’s firm veto of a pardon for Jonathan Pollard, although most US officials involved in the case feel Pollard should be released.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon visited Jerusalem this week, and both urged Israel to give President Obama’s sanctions more time to cause Iran to slow or end its atomic weapons program, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to do the same during his upcoming visit soon.
“We are all on the same page regarding Iran,” Clinton said in public, but privately Israeli officials who asked not to be quoted told The Algemeiner that this not so, and this is not the only issue where there are clear differences with the Obama Administration.
“Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage, sentenced to life imprisonment and is serving the sentence,” said Secretary Clinton, not even attempting to gloss words, adding, “I do not have any expectation that this will change.”
Many of the US officials who were involved in the Pollard case or have investigated it say that Pollard has been treated especially harshly, partly because he was falsely accused (in a private memo from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger) of providing information that led to the deaths of US agents.
Subsequent US spy scandals involving Aldrich Ames, the Walker family and FBI counter-espionage official Robert Hanssen (who worked for Russia) showed that Pollard was often blamed for their crimes.
Clinton also did not bring good news about Turkey’s efforts to freeze Israel out of high-level security forums, and US officials are advising Israel to apologize to Turkey for the deaths of Turkish extremists killed when they attacked Israeli soldiers and tried breaking an Israeli arms blockade of Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
Earlier, during the Egyptian leg of her trip, Clinton was largely passive when journalists suggested the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty had to be amended, and when Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Kamel Amr said Egyptwanted to see the treaty reflect a more “comprehensive” approach involving a full Israeli withdrawal from what he called Palestinian territory:
“Egypt’s understanding of peace is that it should be comprehensive, exactly as stipulated in the treaty itself,” said Amr, in his joint press conference with Clinton, his remarks offered in English via a translator.
“And this also includes the Palestinians, of course, and its [sic] right to – their right have their own state on the land that was – the pre June 4th, 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” Amr continued. Clinton did not comment.
Before Clinton arrived in Israel, National Security Advisor Donilon met privately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, passing on Obama’s message not to strike Iran, because it would destabilize the area and might hurt Obama’s election prospects by triggering higher fuel prices worldwide.
Israeli security officials believe that Iran may have an operational nuclear weapon option within a short period of time, allowing Israel only a short “window” where it may successfully employ military means to stop or delay that possibility.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat just published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers, and The Jerusalem Post, and he served Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and as an advisor to Israeli negotiating teams in 1991-92 at the Madrid Summit and thereafter. He teaches at Bar Ilan University.