Can Obama be trusted?

March 12, 2012 by Isi Leibler
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Few would envy Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‘s role during the forthcoming months…writes Isi Leibler.


Isi Leibler

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 towards Israel’s security and wellbeing than since the creation of the Jewish state. This was also reflected in President 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 reference 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 and 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 US 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 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.

On the other hand, Obama did not exaggerate when he boasted to AIPAC that his recent 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” 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, 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.

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 President 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 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 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 itself and overcome its adversaries.


2 Responses to “Can Obama be trusted?”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    I suspect Obama’s more personal inclinations are to the Palestinians rather than Israel and I don’t think any trust can be put in anything he or the administration might promise now, as these kinds of words can easily be altered due to ‘circumstances’ suddenly being retrieved from somewhere to validate the change. Israel has to always make independent decisions with its own survival in mind, and rely on no other country even while it seeks support. Just a cursory look at history in relation to the Jewish people should be a timely reminder of that. Netanyahu was right to bring the Holocaust into the discussion; it’s an apt allusion. Besides, currently the U.S. is pretty burnt out, with the mess that invasion of Iraq turned out to be and the mess Afghanistan is – a debacle in human terms as well as economically. They don’t have the wherewithal for another ‘war’.

    ‘The Age’ recently published a letter from me (12/02/2012) on the subject of Iran and Israel, as follows:
    ‘Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledges to confront and defeat the ‘cancerous tumour’ of Israel (Sunday Age, 05/02/12) and international concern grows of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations. While the US and other countries urge Israel to wait for the effects of tough sanctions on Iran to be felt, it must be realised that we’re discussing the survival of a people and a country here. Israel’s leaders are certainly aware of this. It seems nobody but the Jews learn by history. Do the leaders of the international coalition forget that the killing of six million Jews in Europe during World War II came about due to ‘waiting’ and because the Allied leaders of the time took too long to confront the reality that was Hitler and the Nazi Party? Does the world really expect the Jews of Israel to repeat this history? Iran plans to wipe Israel off the map when equipped to do so. Which country in the world would countenance the prospect of obliteration by waiting until it happened? Even pacifists would find themselves fighting for their lives if their backs were to the wall.

  2. Paul Winter says:

    Isi asks: “Can Obama be trusted?”. Yes! Obama can be trusted to never tell the truth. No sooner had Obama left AIPAC than he turned around and got talks about talks going again with the mullahcracy; Krauthammer details that neatly. In other words, Obama’s words of having Israel’s back is for public consumption to help him get re-elected, when he can resume pressuring Israel to commit national suicide. Obama seems to be doing as much as he can get away with in supporting revolutionary Islam and in doing so he has alienated conservative mohammedans that once were the US’s allies. He is undermining the West and giving radical Islam an easy ride in the US. Any nation trusting Obama endangers its existence.

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