Obama, Bibi and Iran: The Compounded Risk Equation
Amid the din of self-congratulatory pronouncements regarding his administration’s relationship with Israel, the most significant line conveyed by President Obama to an Audience of 13,000 at AIPAC’s annual policy conference this year was: “Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.” Although not said specifically in the context of the Iranian issue, the truth is, that for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it was the understanding of this fundamental reality that he was seeking to assert as the single most significant product of his trip to the United States.
Unfortunately for Israel, the President’s subsequent words and further statements at a press conference two days following were hardly supportive of this pronouncement.
Some pundits heralded the speech as further indication of the President’s shifting position on Israel that they say began in the fall of 2011. It is clear however that with upcoming elections the President has motive to temporarily modify his Israel position, as such, the one thing that is certain is that none can be sure of where he stands.
So much so, that the Washington Post, ran an article on the home page of its website on Sunday entitled “Obama allies, foes speculate on a big – and hypothetical – second-term agenda.” The article highlighted the widespread uncertainty from friends and enemies alike over where Obama stands on a number of key issues saying, “Even after three years in office, Obama remains a political Rorschach test. His friends still project their brightest hopes on him. His enemies still project their deepest nightmares.”
This may have been the idea behind Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion at AIPAC that he may introduce new legislation that would force Obama on Iran. He said, “If the administration can’t articulate an effective policy then Congress will do it for them.” Congress could remove doubt over Obama’s Iran policies by creating a well-defined framework and a timeline that would be mandated by law, leaving no room for Iranian or Israeli uncertainty over the position of the United States.
In the absence of such measures however, the bottom line is this: For Israel, dealing with Iran is fraught with risk and doubt at every turn, and kowtowing to Obama in any shape or form would significantly compound that risk.
What Israel needs from America, from its ‘friend,’ right now, at this challenging juncture for its safety and security is the exact opposite; the articulation or implementation of any measures that would reduce the risk factor for the Jewish State. For example, at the very minimum, a statement along these lines: “Whilst the United States has articulated its independently held sovereign position, we support the right of our ally Israel to defend itself against any and all threats that it faces and will stand behind Israel and support any security decisions made by its democratically elected government.”
To their credit, statements made on Tuesday by Republican Presidential Candidates to AIPAC, generally appeared to strike this tone.
Israel doesn’t know for certain how effective an Iran strike would be, she doesn’t know how Iran will respond or how Hamas, Hezbollah and the international community will respond. Additionally Iran’s status as a ‘rational actor’ is a subject of discussion. How best to conduct a strike? How potent are Iran’s air defenses?
If Israel then had to add reliance on President Obama to that equation, then Bibi is right, the very purpose of Zionism will be lost. The Jews may as well pack up their bags, disperse themselves among the nations and subject themselves to the whims of their host countries as in the last two millennia of Jewish history.
For now, at the very minimum, because of the looming elections, Netanyahu can bundle considerations over President Obama into Israel’s general evaluation of ‘international responses’ to any Iran actions. For the future he should be sure to do little to encourage American Jews to support the President in November as there is a strong case to be made that Journalist Ari Shavit of Haaretz was right when he said, “if Obama is re-elected there will immediately be a very strong attack and Israel will find itself in a very sharp crisis, because right now, Netanyahu has succeeded in restricting Obama, Obama is now like a lion in a cage.”