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February 7, 2012 1:32 pm

Israel Can’t Rely on President Obama for Support in Iran Strike

avatar by Heather Robinson

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President Obama in the Oval Office speaking with Israeli PM Netanyahu. Photo: wiki commons.

By some accounts, most American Jews are planning to vote for President Barack Obama in 2012.  At the same time, Democrats are mounting a massive public relations effort to shore up Jewish support in advance of the election.

At town meetings, in editorials, and in the blogosphere, left-leaning American Jews are arguing that the perception that President Obama is not pro-Israel is incorrect and even paranoid.  They argue the perception stems from emotion rather than logic. At a recent town meeting prior to the Florida primary, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, “As Jews, we really care about what’s in your kishkas. We want to look into Barack Obama’s heart and his kishkas. I know that he feels the issues that are important to us  … I’ve seen what’s in his kishkas, and I know that this is a mensch that we have in the White House.”

But given the President’s record on Israel, who is really planning to vote with their “kishkas?” Those who quote the President’s words of support for Israel, or those who examine his record in office regarding Iran, the greatest threat to Israel’s security?

The president’s boosters defend Obama for his criticism of construction of East Jerusalem “settlements” and his suggestion that Israelis agree, as a prerequisite to negotiations with the Palestinians, to return to borders “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” They quote Israeli leaders who praise their relationship with the American President, and point out that while the U.S. president has criticized Israelis, he has also criticized Palestinians.

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These arguments suggest that speeches and second hand accounts of the President’s behavior don’t necessarily mean much.

Regarding Iran-the issue most urgent to the security of Israel and that of the entire world- the President’s behavior seems to suggest that there is no logical reason to assume that he would help Israel if a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is undertaken, especially if doing so conflicted with other priorities.

No one knows the future, or the mind of another. And it is possible that, despite appearances, the Obama administration is helping Israel behind the scenes.  But if the President’s behavior regarding sanctions against Iran is an indicator, in a worst case scenario, not only might Barack Obama not offer Israel assistance directly during the strike, he cannot be counted on to lend Israel military or diplomatic support if Iran chooses to respond with force.

The most salient fact for American voters who are security-minded to remember is the U.S. Congress took the lead on imposing sanctions on Iran’s financial and military institutions, not President Obama.

Despite the President’s rhetoric about the need to impose tough sanctions, by numerous accounts including that of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a prominent democrat whose cooperative effort with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) resulted in the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions Amendment, Obama was an obstructionist to the timely passage of the bill.

“The clock is ticking,” a clearly exasperated Menendez said to administration representatives during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in December. “The published reports say we have about a year. Now when are we going to start our sanctions regime robustly? Six months before … they get a nuclear weapon?”

The administration has also been weak in enforcing prior sanctions, according to Senator Menendez.

“You have been reluctant to sanction Chinese companies for energy sanctions when there is ample evidence that they are violating our laws,” Menendez said during the same hearing.  “Even though we’ve given you the tools, you haven’t shown us the robust effort, when the clock is ticking, to use that which we have given you.”

After lobbying to water down the penalties against foreign banks that do business with Iran’s Central Bank and attempting to lengthen the timeline before sanctions against companies doing non-oil transactions with Iran’s Central Bank would be required to kick in, the President finally signed a modified version of Kirk-Menendez on December 31.

Push and pull has continued between Congress and Obama on making the sanctions bite: last month, a bipartisan group of 89 legislators wrote the President a letter urging him to do a better job of imposing existing sanctions. Last month, the administration sent officials to Japan and North Korea to discuss what would constitute “significantly reduced” purchases of Iranian oil. Lawmakers indicate they will be watching the administration to monitor the President’s enforcement of current sanctions designed to decrease international consumption of Iranian oil.

The fact that Obama has belatedly ordered new sanctions just this week, while positive, should not overshadow the reality that he has failed to take the lead overall.

Most analysts view the Obama administration’s efforts to lobby for broad interpretation of the sanctions law as an attempt to hedge against the possibility that global oil prices would rise in correlation with growing tensions – and that could spell trouble for the President in his re-election campaign.

Is it possible that Obama, in his attempts to gain more leeway for opting out of imposing sanctions, actually felt that was the better strategy to prevent Iran from going nuclear? Is it possible, for instance, that the President believed true isolation might spur Iran to go nuclear faster, and that his insistence on loopholes in imposing tough sanctions was intended to fool the Iranians while he helps Israel behind the scenes?  Yes, it is possible.

What we do know, however, is that compared to the U.S. Congress, this administration dragged its feet in implementing sanctions to penalize other countries for dealing with the Central Bank of Iran.

Actions speak louder than words and on sanctions – a far less controversial strategy than military action – this President was so reluctant that he incurred the dismay of Congressional leaders within his own party.

So on what logical basis should voters assume that if Israeli leaders were faced with a military operation to insure the Jewish state’s survival, Obama would help or support Israel?

The President’s Jewish-American boosters quote Israeli leaders praising him – which in my opinion is either naive or disingenuous. Israel’s leaders, in a precarious position, can’t necessarily speak freely about him. After all, if Americans re-elect Obama,  Israel’s leaders will be forced to deal with him for another four years.

If American Jews and others re-elect Obama, they will demonstrate that Israel’s security is not a top priority for them. But they shouldn’t assume that Israelis alone will be made more vulnerable if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. Iran’s minister of defense, Ahmad Vahidi, is wanted by Interpol for the 1994 terrorist bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. If Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, the security of Jews worldwide will suffer, perhaps dramatically.

In possession of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s regime would feel freer to ratchet up the terrorism that is their stock-in-trade. The balance of power in the world would shift, and Israelis and Americans, as well as Jews, Christians, and moderate Muslims around the world, would find themselves increasingly vulnerable.

If the Jewish state’s security has not been a top priority for this President during his first term, there is no reason to believe it would be during a second term.

Counting on Obama to confront a fascist regime intent on terrorizing the world or even to support Israel’s right to do so would be, in the words of one columnist, “to hold on to the hand of the American president in absolute faith and trust” in the face of a mortal threat.

In insisting on holding that hand despite the lack of logical basis for that trust, it is left-leaning American Jews – not those who regard the President critically on this issue – who are seeing what they want to see, and thinking with their “kishkas.”

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  • Gefferson

    Great article. Argument well stated and thought provoking. Keep up this important work.

  • Marylin Pitz

    It is hard to believe that American Jews are so blind to the reality of the President’s (and much of the rest of the world’s) lack of enthusiasm about the necessity of Israel’s existence. Thank
    G-d for the American Congress and the American people who elected them. And thank you for this well-reasoned article.

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