The Israelis’ error was not in announcing a housing-complex addition, writes John Bolton. It was in trying to play ball with an American administration that seeks to dictate negotiations with intransigent Palestinians and has little interest in stopping the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bolton explains:
Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.
On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu has faithfully supported Mr. Obama’s diplomacy, hoping to build credibility with the president against the day when Israel might have to strike Iran’s weapons program preemptively. . . As time passes, Israel’s military option grows more difficult and the chances for success shrink as Iran seeks new air-defense systems and further buries and hardens nuclear facilities.
Mr. Netanyahu’s mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The rub will come, as Bolton notes, when Israel determines that it must take military action and when the Obami do all they can to prevent the Jewish state’s preemptive strike, or to punish it after the fact (“if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities, the president will likely withhold critical replenishments of destroyed Israeli aircraft and other weapons systems”). Bolton’s advice to Bibi is to stop trying to gain chits with Obama and strike while it is still possible. He argues:
The prime minister should recalibrate his approach, and soon. Israel’s deference on Palestinian issues will not help it with Mr. Obama after a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a mistake to think that further delays in such a strike will materially change the toxic political response Israel can expect from the White House. Israel’s support will come from Congress and the American people, as opinion polls show, not from the president.
It is quite a dilemma, unlike nearly any an Israeli prime minister has faced so far. But that is because we have never had a president quite so openly dismissive of Israel’s interests. The Obami keep repeating mantras that sound increasingly insincere. There is no space between us on national security. The Americans understand the existential threat to Israel. Our bond with Israel is unshakable. But none of it rings true judging by the behavior and tactics of the Obami. Bully-boy tactics on peace talks and foot-dragging on the Iranian nuclear threat say just the opposite.
Bolton is right that Israel’s greatest aid in this remains Congress and the American public. But let’s not kid ourselves. The president matters and is indispensible both in his prerogative to cooperate or not with an Israeli strike and to react rhetorically and otherwise after the fact. Counting on Congress to check the poor instincts of a commander in chief who lacks any visceral connection to the Jewish state (and, indeed, sees it as a provocateur) is dicey at best. There simply isn’t any substitute for a president who sees American interests aligned with Israel’s and correctly perceives which parties are the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a president right now.