Commentary Magazine


Israel Is Not Stopping Obama from Stopping Iran

As the Obama administration begins to back away from its post-Biden-visit ultimatums to Israel about building in Jerusalem, “senior officials” are spinning away the disastrous fight they picked with the Netanyahu government. In Newsweek, Michael Hirsh allows one of these “senior officials” to give readers the “real reason” why Obama flipped out on Israel.

According to Hirsh and his highly placed source, the reason why Obama turned a minor flap about the timing of the announcement of new housing project in Jerusalem wasn’t entirely due to Biden’s injured pride or the motive that Hirsh neglects to mention: the administration’s desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather, says Hirsch and his source, it’s because Obama is terribly worried about Iran and wants Israel to be more supportive of his herculean efforts to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In their tale, the housing dispute made Obama look weak and will detract from his all-out campaign to enact tough international sanctions on the Islamist regime. Hirsh’s confidante says: “Iran is [Obama’s] No. 1 priority, it’s the No. 2 priority, and it’s the No. 3 priority. Everything we do needs to be seen through the lens of how to stop Iran from getting nuclear capability. So they [Israel] need to keep their focus. Why would you want to do anything now to make the president look less strong or effective?” In this narrative, the slap at Biden proves that Obama cares more about stopping Iran than Netanyahu and the Israelis.

Is he serious? This is an administration that spent its first year in office pursuing appeasement and pointless and unsuccessful engagement with Iran. It was unwilling to issue strong statements condemning Iran’s stolen presidential elections and repression of its own people. The administration issued several deadlines for Iran to respond to its outreach efforts but failed to follow up. It has pointedly taken the threat of force off the table and failed to rally both its allies and other countries to support tough sanctions.  Even now, it is dithering in its efforts to enact sanctions far less than the crippling measures needed to truly impact the regime, which views Obama as a weakling who will never do what it takes to keep Iran out of the nuclear club.

Yet despite all this, we’re supposed to believe that Obama is so desperate to stop Iran that it is his first, second, and third foreign-policy priority? To judge by his actions and statements, Obama’s top worry about the issue is that Israel, the country threatened with destruction by Iran’s Islamist tyrants, will tire of waiting for the United States to take action and do something to avert the peril itself. Despite the occasional promise to make good on his campaign pledge that he would never let Iran get nuclear weapons, everything coming out of Washington in the last year has given Tehran the impression that Obama is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb.

Far from the Israelis diverting attention from the Iran issue, it was Obama who chose to blow the Biden contretemps into an international incident. Israel has been building throughout Jerusalem for over 40 years without generating tension with the United States. It was Obama who made the construction of apartments in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Israel’s capital a cause célèbre. Rather than a strategic blunder on Israel’s part, as Hirsh claims, it was Obama who chose to change the conversation about stopping Iran, preferring instead to discuss a dead-end peace process that interests neither the Palestinians nor their Arab allies.

If Obama lacks credibility on Iran, it’s because everything he has done since he took office shows that he has never been serious about stopping their nuclear program, not because the Israelis won’t be bullied on Jerusalem. Far from being frustrated by Israel’s alleged lack of focus on Iran, the recent dustup spoke volumes about the administration’s own desire to change the subject.