Commentary Magazine


Topic: Netanyahu

Obama’s Tough Talk Masks Iran Freebie

President Obama responded sharply yesterday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim the P5+1 talks with Iran constituted a Western “freebie” to the Islamist regime because it gave it five more weeks to continue to enrich uranium. Speaking during his visit to Colombia, the president let loose with another barrage of tough talk about his intentions to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Warning “the clock is ticking” for Iran, he directly addressed criticism of the talks by saying he wouldn’t allow it to turn into a “stalling process” and that far more draconian sanctions would be put into place against the regime if it didn’t take advantage of the diplomatic process.

That’s reassuring rhetoric, but the problem with America’s policy on the Iranian nuclear issue remains the same as it has always been: the disconnect between President Obama’s public rhetoric and the process by which U.S. diplomatic efforts has allowed Tehran to do the stalling that he claims he opposes. With reports of Saturday’s meeting showing that nothing other than a commitment to future meetings in Baghdad (the venue has been changed from Turkey to suit Iran’s latest whim), it’s not clear why Israel or anyone who cares should have much confidence that the negotiators are doing anything but allowing both the ayatollahs and a president who wishes to avoid a confrontation during an election year to run out the clock in contravention to what Obama has pledged.

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President Obama responded sharply yesterday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim the P5+1 talks with Iran constituted a Western “freebie” to the Islamist regime because it gave it five more weeks to continue to enrich uranium. Speaking during his visit to Colombia, the president let loose with another barrage of tough talk about his intentions to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Warning “the clock is ticking” for Iran, he directly addressed criticism of the talks by saying he wouldn’t allow it to turn into a “stalling process” and that far more draconian sanctions would be put into place against the regime if it didn’t take advantage of the diplomatic process.

That’s reassuring rhetoric, but the problem with America’s policy on the Iranian nuclear issue remains the same as it has always been: the disconnect between President Obama’s public rhetoric and the process by which U.S. diplomatic efforts has allowed Tehran to do the stalling that he claims he opposes. With reports of Saturday’s meeting showing that nothing other than a commitment to future meetings in Baghdad (the venue has been changed from Turkey to suit Iran’s latest whim), it’s not clear why Israel or anyone who cares should have much confidence that the negotiators are doing anything but allowing both the ayatollahs and a president who wishes to avoid a confrontation during an election year to run out the clock in contravention to what Obama has pledged.

The president’s continued discussion of his desire to press Iran and refusal to let them off the hook ought to have encouraged the Israelis. But given the clear desire of America’s P5+1 negotiating partners — a group that includes Iran’s friends Russia and China — to treat the talks as merely a method for preventing an Israeli attack on Iran, it is difficult to fault Netanyahu for his skepticism about a process that, despite Obama’s comments, seems to have no clear agenda or deadline for success. Indeed, accounts of the meeting seem to have confirmed his fears that the whole point is about defusing tension over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and creating a process that will continue until well past November.

What is perhaps most discouraging about the accounts of the talks and the preparations for the next meeting is that they do not at all seem informed by the fact that the West has been down the garden path with Iran before. This is not the first diplomatic contact with Iran. Several years of talks dating back to the Bush administration and including President Obama’s ludicrous effort at engagement with Tehran all sought to get the Iranians to export their stockpile of enriched uranium as well as to prevent it from creating more. Each time, the Iranians agreed to the discussions and then even gave the impression that a deal was in place before reneging.

The president has indicated he is aware of this, but by buying into the current process and allowing the Russians and the Chinese an equal say in the negotiations, he has set himself up for a repeat performance. Unless he is prepared to get as tough with his own side in the talks as he claims to want to be with Iran, it is difficult to see how he can prevent a “stalling process” from taking up the entire summer and fall with talks that are not likely to achieve anything. The idea that he will be able to persuade the leaky international coalition he has assembled on behalf of sanctions on Iran to go ahead and embargo oil from the rogue state while he is simultaneously engaged in negotiations with it defies common sense. But if all the president is interested in doing is mollifying American public opinion while putting off an Israeli strike, his strategy makes perfect sense.

While Netanyahu is being criticized for going public with his concerns about the talks, his comments about a “freebie” merely indicate that this diplomatic process fools no one in Jerusalem. Both the Iranians and the president share a desire to kick the can down the road until after the November election. All the tough talk from the White House doesn’t change the fact that there is little reason to believe there will be genuine progress toward eliminating the Iranian threat.

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Explaining the Everlasting Palestinian “No”

It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

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It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

The Palestinians claim their refusal of negotiations is based on the idea that it is pointless to talk if Israel isn’t going to concede every point of contention such as borders and settlements in advance. Part of this is, however, Obama’s fault. Since he demanded three years ago that Israel freeze settlement building as a precondition to negotiations — something that not even the Palestinians had thought of prior to 2009 — it is difficult for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to insist on anything less. But since Israel already froze building in the West Bank in 2010 and Abbas still wouldn’t talk, the point is moot.

The fact is, neither Abbas or his Hamas coalition partners have any intention of ever signing a piece of paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state and therefore end the conflict for all time. This is something that even Obama is beginning to understand, but it is one that many liberals and others who think the struggle over this tiny plot of land is about borders find inexplicable. Yet, it is actually quite easy to understand.

Palestinian nationalism flowered in the last century not as an attempt to recreate an ancient ethnic or national identity or to recover a dying language or culture, as was the case with nationalist revivals in places like Ireland, the Czech Republic or even the Jewish movement of Zionism. Rather, it was a reaction to the Jewish return to the land. Though apologists for the Palestinians contend that it was not a purely negative movement, it is impossible to understand Palestinian nationalism as anything but an effort to prevent Zionism from succeeding. Its essence is the illegitimacy of the Jewish state, and any effort to wean it from that belief constitutes a contradiction that the Palestinian grass roots and its vast refugee diaspora simply cannot accept.

It is this everlasting Palestinian “no” that is the basic fact of the Middle East conflict that cannot be talked out of existence. Nor can it be charmed away by Israeli concessions that stop short of the destruction of the Jewish state.

Anyone who doesn’t comprehend this will never be able to explain this latest Palestinian refusal to talk, those that came before it, and the inevitable “no’s” that will follow.

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Mitt-Bibi Controversy? Aren’t Allies Supposed to Be Friends?

For generations, historians have lauded the friendship that existed between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as being a crucial element that made the wartime alliance between the United States and Great Britain a success. But apparently there are some people who aren’t as happy about the prospect of close relations between a would-be U.S. president and the head of the government of one of America’s closest allies. The New York Times devoted a portion of the cover of its Sunday edition and considerable space inside to a feature that detailed the ties between likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that go back to the 1970’s when both were young men working at the Boston Consulting Group. According to the Times, this has some people worried that too much “deference” on Romney’s part to Netanyahu would “influence decision making” and possibly “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”

This potential smear invokes two of the hoary canards of anti-Israel invective: the dual loyalty charge (usually lodged against American Jews) and the notion that a politician is pandering to the pro-Israel community for votes (in this case, evangelical Christians are the more likely candidates for influence than the more liberal Jews). But the idea that Romney is suspect because he has a longstanding friendship with the Israeli prime minister is absurd. Allies are supposed to be friends or at least ought to be able to understand each other and speak frankly about potential conflicts. Given that President Obama spent the first three years of his presidency picking fights with Netanyahu that did nothing to enhance America’s strategic position or the Middle East peace process, wouldn’t Romney’s ability to communicate without rancor with the Israeli be an advantage rather than a cause of suspicion?

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For generations, historians have lauded the friendship that existed between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as being a crucial element that made the wartime alliance between the United States and Great Britain a success. But apparently there are some people who aren’t as happy about the prospect of close relations between a would-be U.S. president and the head of the government of one of America’s closest allies. The New York Times devoted a portion of the cover of its Sunday edition and considerable space inside to a feature that detailed the ties between likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that go back to the 1970’s when both were young men working at the Boston Consulting Group. According to the Times, this has some people worried that too much “deference” on Romney’s part to Netanyahu would “influence decision making” and possibly “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”

This potential smear invokes two of the hoary canards of anti-Israel invective: the dual loyalty charge (usually lodged against American Jews) and the notion that a politician is pandering to the pro-Israel community for votes (in this case, evangelical Christians are the more likely candidates for influence than the more liberal Jews). But the idea that Romney is suspect because he has a longstanding friendship with the Israeli prime minister is absurd. Allies are supposed to be friends or at least ought to be able to understand each other and speak frankly about potential conflicts. Given that President Obama spent the first three years of his presidency picking fights with Netanyahu that did nothing to enhance America’s strategic position or the Middle East peace process, wouldn’t Romney’s ability to communicate without rancor with the Israeli be an advantage rather than a cause of suspicion?

Close allies and friends can disagree and often do as did Roosevelt and Churchill. We imagine the same would apply to Romney and Netanyahu. The idea that a Romney administration would “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel” is nonsense. The U.S. is always going to view events through the prism of its own specific interests, as does Israel. But problems arise not so much because of the existence of these different frames of reference but from a failure of leaders to be able to communicate their positions and to understand those of their ally’s. In this case, the ability of Romney and Netanyahu to understand each other’s thinking will enhance not only the security of Israel but of the United States.

With Obama, whose lack of affinity for Israel is obvious and distaste for Netanyahu is a matter of public record, the prime minister has good reason to doubt the word of the president when he asks Israel to forbear from taking certain actions or to defer to America’s wishes. It is possible that Romney would have far more latitude to press the Israelis because, as was the case between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon, there will be a strong sense of trust. Whether that would work out to Israel’s benefit is an open question, but at a time when both nations are facing a deadly nuclear threat from Iran, more trust and communication between Washington and Jerusalem is certainly to be welcomed.

It is true that some found Romney’s debate line in which disparaged Newt Gingrich’s quip about the Palestinians being an invented people disturbing. Romney said, “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’” But it makes perfect sense that any American president would wish to confer with the prime minister of Israel before launching any barb at the Palestinians, let alone a policy change. That is not the case with Obama, who has frequently sought to ambush the Israeli.

Lest anyone think Romney and Netanyahu are blood brothers, the Times feature ought to make it clear the two have not exactly been in constant contact since they first met in 1976. They knew and admired each other as successful young men working together but only renewed that friendship many years later after Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts. The fact that Romney worked for a time with Netanyahu’s second wife Fleur Cates, something that the Times throws in for ballast, is irrelevant to this discussion as he divorced her almost 30 years ago.

The only way a close knowledge and good relationship with Israel’s prime minister could be considered a drawback in an American president is if you thought there was something questionable about the alliance between the two countries in the first place. Those who promote the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby canard about U.S. supporters of Israel being disloyal to the United States will, no doubt, regard the Romney-Netanyahu friendship as a reason to vote against the Republican. They will, no doubt prefer a president like Obama who sees an Islamist such as Turkey’s Recey Tayyip Erdoğan as the sort of foreign leader he feels more comfortable with. But for the vast majority of Americans who think of Israel in much the same way as they once thought of Britain — as a wartime ally — it will be one more argument in Romney’s favor.

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Friedman’s Clueless Middle East Twofer

After so many years of being wrong about the Palestinians being ready to make peace with Israel, it is difficult to take New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Middle East advice columns seriously. But his latest effort in this genre contains some whoppers that got our attention even if they only provide more proof  the veteran writer is still hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Today’s “twofer” of Friedman gems starts out with praise for imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Friedman gives a testimonial to Barghouti as an “authentic leader” and describes his call from prison for a new campaign of “non-violent” protest against Israel as just the ticket to bring peace. But what Friedman doesn’t understand is what makes Barghouti “authentic” to Palestinians is his role in the murder of Israeli civilians (for which he is currently serving five life sentences), not his notions about a switch to Gandhi-style activism.

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After so many years of being wrong about the Palestinians being ready to make peace with Israel, it is difficult to take New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Middle East advice columns seriously. But his latest effort in this genre contains some whoppers that got our attention even if they only provide more proof  the veteran writer is still hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Today’s “twofer” of Friedman gems starts out with praise for imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Friedman gives a testimonial to Barghouti as an “authentic leader” and describes his call from prison for a new campaign of “non-violent” protest against Israel as just the ticket to bring peace. But what Friedman doesn’t understand is what makes Barghouti “authentic” to Palestinians is his role in the murder of Israeli civilians (for which he is currently serving five life sentences), not his notions about a switch to Gandhi-style activism.

Friedman advises Palestinians to take up Barghouti’s plea for “non-violence” (which according to Friedman includes the throwing of lethal rocks at Israelis as well as a campaign of economic warfare against the Jewish state) but to accompany it with specific maps showing what peace terms they will accept from Israel. On the surface that makes sense, because as Friedman says, Israel would then be faced with a tangible peace proposal that it would likely accept. Yet Friedman ignores the reason why the Palestinians have never made such a practical proposal and are unlikely to do so now.

The problem from the Palestinian point of view with Friedman’s advice to throw rocks wrapped in maps showing possible territorial swaps is that to do so means recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state. And that is something no Palestinian leader has ever had the courage to do no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn or how many settlements would be uprooted.

Let’s remember that Barghouti’s mass murder spree took place in the immediate aftermath of an Israeli peace offer that was not much different from the scheme Friedman now thinks the Palestinians will accept. PA leader Yasir Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s offers of a state in 2000 and 2001 and answered it with a terror war that cost more than 1,000 Israelis their lives courtesy of killers like his Fatah cohort Barghouti. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas walked away from another such offer in 2008. With the Islamists of Hamas now joining Abbas in a new coalition, the odds that the PA will be able to accept a similar offer are zero.

Yet Friedman still thinks the Palestinians can make Israelis “feel morally insecure” about holding onto territory by another bout of rock throwing. But the reason why Israelis don’t “feel morally insecure” is because, unlike Friedman, they aren’t prepare to ignore the results of two decades of Middle East peace processing during which they have traded land and received terror instead of the peace pundits like the columnist promised. He’s right that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes the Palestinians won’t make peace because he “thinks it’s not in their culture.” The problem for Friedman is they have already proven many times that it isn’t.

What makes this discussion so pointless is that the Palestinians don’t need a change in tactics. They don’t have to throw rocks or promote boycotts even if those activities are more attractive to their foreign supporters than suicide bombings. All they have to do is negotiate. Netanyahu has already said he’d accept a two-state solution and, as Friedman understands, the vast majority of Israelis would support him if he were presented with a deal that ended the conflict. Just as in 1977 when Egypt’s Sadat went to Jerusalem, the Israelis are ready to deal. The problem is not whether the Palestinians realize how best to make Israelis “morally insecure” — a point that is as meaningless today as it was 35 years ago — but that, unlike Sadat, they aren’t actually willing to live in peace alongside the Jewish state.

The other whopper in Friedman’s column is his second suggestion: a proposal that Israel assist in the creation of a viable secular Palestinian state in the West Bank that would promote a free-market economy that would be a model to the Middle East. He thinks this is essential, because if violence erupts, the new Islamist leadership in Egypt will exacerbate it.

For years, Friedman has been promoting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and “Fayyadism” as the coming wave of Palestinian politics. But Fayyad’s name isn’t mentioned once in Friedman’s column. That’s because the moderate, who is a favorite of both the U.S. and Israel, has no constituency among his own people and is being chucked out of office by Abbas to appease his new Hamas partners. Israel would like nothing better than a free market-trading partner in the West Bank led by a man such as Fayyad as opposed to another Islamist wasteland such as currently exists in Gaza. The problem is the Palestinians prefer Hamas to Fayyad or the advice of the clueless Friedman.

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What Happens When You Assume

When I pulled up the home page of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz this morning, I was greeted with a somewhat humorous sight. The top headline, in large print, was: “Israeli security forces evacuate settlers from Hebron house.” Immediately to the right of that headline was this one: “Haaretz Editorial: The Israeli government gave in to the settlers.” Oops.

It appears Haaretz was expecting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to evict the residents of a house in Hebron who the government says are not there legally. So the editors wrote a blistering editorial excoriating Netanyahu for what they assumed he would (or would not) do. It’s true that Netanyahu had recently indicated that he was not yet ready to evict the settlers. But that is a common tactic used by the government to ensure that the soldiers carrying out the evictions are not met with organized resistance. It’s not the first time the Israeli authorities have done this–it’s not even the first time they’ve done this in Hebron. Should Haaretz have assumed that Netanyahu would not evict Jews from Hebron? Just the opposite–Netanyahu has a track record of willingness to move Jews out of Hebron. He even signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat during the Clinton administration relinquishing some control over Hebron.

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When I pulled up the home page of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz this morning, I was greeted with a somewhat humorous sight. The top headline, in large print, was: “Israeli security forces evacuate settlers from Hebron house.” Immediately to the right of that headline was this one: “Haaretz Editorial: The Israeli government gave in to the settlers.” Oops.

It appears Haaretz was expecting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to evict the residents of a house in Hebron who the government says are not there legally. So the editors wrote a blistering editorial excoriating Netanyahu for what they assumed he would (or would not) do. It’s true that Netanyahu had recently indicated that he was not yet ready to evict the settlers. But that is a common tactic used by the government to ensure that the soldiers carrying out the evictions are not met with organized resistance. It’s not the first time the Israeli authorities have done this–it’s not even the first time they’ve done this in Hebron. Should Haaretz have assumed that Netanyahu would not evict Jews from Hebron? Just the opposite–Netanyahu has a track record of willingness to move Jews out of Hebron. He even signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat during the Clinton administration relinquishing some control over Hebron.

Should Haaretz have assumed Netanyahu wouldn’t respond to political pressure to turn parts of Jewish holy cities over to the Palestinians? No again. As the editorial itself notes, during his first term as prime minister Netanyahu “ordered the settlers to evacuate Ras al Amud,” a neighborhood in Jerusalem. (Netanyahu once even indicated, in a 2010 speech, that Jerusalem could be on the table for negotiations–an unprecedented move.)

What else surprised the Haaretz editorialists? They write that Netanyahu was ignoring the West Bank military prosecutor’s opinion, which includes a “warning of violence.” Yet, as the article on the evacuation notes, the mission was carried out “without any unusual events”–code for “peacefully.” It continues to surprise the media that settlers aren’t violent fanatics. (The picture accompanying the article shows a young Jewish mother pushing a stroller with a couple of young children walking peacefully next to her. Because Haaretz would generally post the most violent picture they have of any incident involving settlers, it would appear they were unable to locate anything but peaceful cooperation.)

Personal dislike of Netanyahu by the left has, since the very beginning of Netanyahu’s career, perverted the newsgathering and political processes to such an extent as to present a picture wholly unrelated to reality. In November, after President Obama and French President Sarkozy were caught trying to prove to each other who dislikes Netanyahu more, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl asked a good question: “Why do Sarkozy and Obama hate Netanyahu?”

He argued that Netanyahu has been responsive all along to Obama’s initiatives, even when Netanyahu didn’t like them. He agreed to settlement freezes, declared he would evict squatters, agreed to immediate negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, and even announced his support for an independent Palestinian state. (The list is even longer than this, but Diehl was on the right track.) But what about the Palestinians? Diehl went on:

Abbas, it’s fair to say, has gone from resisting U.S. and French diplomacy to actively seeking to undermine it. Yet it is Netanyahu whom Sarkozy finds “unbearable,” and whom Obama groans at having to “deal with every day.” If there is an explanation for this, it must be personal; in substance, it makes little sense.

It is personal, not to mention petty and counterproductive. Netanyahu’s commitment to peace and the rule of law is only surprising to those, like the president and the Haaretz editorialists, who allow personal animus, rather than a fair reading of the facts, to guide them.

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Iran Isolated? Not According to Turkey

We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”

Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.

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We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”

Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.

Iran is scheduled to begin a new round of talks with the European Union-led group that is seeking to find a way to keep President Obama’s “diplomatic window” with Tehran open. The Europeans and the Americans have both stated they will not allow this latest opening to be used as a delaying tactic by the Iranians. But the Iranians are giving every indication they are prepared to call the West’s bluff about an oil embargo. By securing ongoing trade relationships with Turkey and China, Iran hopes to weather the storm should the Europeans and Americans make good on their threat of imposing the tough sanctions they have talked about for years but never enforced.

While Obama has boasted of his success in isolating Iran, events such as Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran gives the lie to the notion that the coalition he has assembled actually means business. More to the point, so long as Iran can count on its neighbor Turkey and an economic dynamo such as China to continue to trade with it, it need not worry about the consequences of continuing to stall the West on the nuclear issue.

The president is thought to have achieved a tacit understanding with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that diplomacy be given more time to work before they consider a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Whether that is true or not, the spectacle of Obama’s close friend embracing Ahmadinejad and promising to work together with him to thwart the West’s “arrogance” ought to give pause to anyone who continues to buy into the administration’s optimism about diplomacy. With Turkey beside them, the Iranians, who have always doubted Obama’s resolve, may believe they have little to fear.

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Azeris Strengthen Israel’s Hand on Iran

The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

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The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

On that score, there’s no question that Iran must regard the decision of the Azeris to assist an Israeli strike as being a mortal threat to their ability to defend themselves. Prior to this, all discussion of a possible Israeli strike had been tempered by the knowledge that their ability to attack Iran was severely limited by the vast distance between the two countries. When compared to the ability of the United States to project airpower from carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf as well as other bases in the Middle East, it made an Israeli attack on Iran look like a poor substitute for U.S. action. But bases in Azerbaijan completely transform the military equation between Israel and Iran. They remove the need for the Israeli Air Force to refuel planes in midair in order to secure their safe return. Support staff stationed along Iran’s northern border would also make it easier for IAF to execute repeated sorties on nuclear targets and facilitate the rescue of downed planes and pilots. The bases would vastly increase the likelihood that an Israeli air campaign against Iran would achieve a high degree of success and lower the potential for losses.

From Iran’s point of view, this is a total disaster. While they have always known they stood no chance of mounting an effective defense against a massive U.S. air campaign on their nuclear plants, an Israeli attack from 2,200 miles away did not seem as formidable a challenge. The Azeri factor does not quite put the Israeli military on a par with that of the United States but it does act as a multiplying factor with regard to Israel’s ability to launch repeated strikes.

Though the Haaretz report that spoke of Israel’s plans to attack Iran as being put on hold until next spring may encourage Tehran, the fact that the sources for the Azeri story in Foreign Policy appear to be senior U.S. military and diplomatic figures shows the Obama administration is by no means certain Netanyahu can be counted on to hold his fire until after the president is safely re-elected. The American motive for leaking the story is clear. By making public the fact that the Azeris have more or less been bribed by Israel to give them access to bases that will enable them to easily attack Iran, the United States may be hoping to accomplish two things.

One is to scare the Iranians into finally waving the white flag on its nuclear project. The story ought to make it clear to the ayatollahs there is no way they can protect themselves from either Israel or the United States if push comes to shove. The odds of the Iranians coming to their senses in this manner are slim, but the administration is determined to do whatever it can to keep the window for diplomacy on the nuclear question open for as long as it can.

The second motive is to forestall any Israeli attack. Making public the Azeri role in the military plan might force the Jewish state’s Asian ally to back away from any involvement in the project.

Whether the revelation will actually deter Israel from acting should Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak determine it is in their country’s interest to strike prior to November is still to be determined. The belief that the extra money for Iron Dome guarantees Israel won’t attack Iran this year is based on the assumption that Obama and Netanyahu came to some agreement on the issue when they met in early March. The Iranians must certainly hope this is the case. But the one thing we know today that we didn’t a few weeks ago is that Israel’s hand in this game of nuclear poker is far stronger than most people thought.

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The Fall of Obama’s Favorite Israeli

For the past three years, figures in America’s foreign policy establishment as well as media kibbitzers who knew little about Israel had a constant refrain: Tzipi Livni, the glamorous head of the Kadmia Party, should replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s election in February 2009, the Obama administration openly plotted to topple the new leader and replace him with Livni, whom they viewed as more pliable on the Palestinian issue. Once that ploy failed as President Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu only strengthened him at home, Netanyahu’s American critics could only sit back and wait patiently until Livni defeated him on her own. But the wait is going to be a lot longer than many in Washington thought.

Last night, Livni lost her perch as opposition leader as the members of her rapidly shrinking party rejected her in favor of former General Shaul Mofaz in a primary to determine who will top the party’s list in  the next election that is currently scheduled for October 2013. That Livni, who was feted abroad and was prominently placed on lists of the world’s most important women, was defeated at all will come as a shock to her foreign admirers. But this was no ordinary defeat. The lady who only a couple of weeks ago was lauded as Israel’s “voice of reason” in a fawning piece by John Avlon in the Daily Beast, was slaughtered by Mofaz, 62-38 percent. The question now is whether Americans who were under the delusion that Livni represented a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s popular government will get the message.

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For the past three years, figures in America’s foreign policy establishment as well as media kibbitzers who knew little about Israel had a constant refrain: Tzipi Livni, the glamorous head of the Kadmia Party, should replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s election in February 2009, the Obama administration openly plotted to topple the new leader and replace him with Livni, whom they viewed as more pliable on the Palestinian issue. Once that ploy failed as President Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu only strengthened him at home, Netanyahu’s American critics could only sit back and wait patiently until Livni defeated him on her own. But the wait is going to be a lot longer than many in Washington thought.

Last night, Livni lost her perch as opposition leader as the members of her rapidly shrinking party rejected her in favor of former General Shaul Mofaz in a primary to determine who will top the party’s list in  the next election that is currently scheduled for October 2013. That Livni, who was feted abroad and was prominently placed on lists of the world’s most important women, was defeated at all will come as a shock to her foreign admirers. But this was no ordinary defeat. The lady who only a couple of weeks ago was lauded as Israel’s “voice of reason” in a fawning piece by John Avlon in the Daily Beast, was slaughtered by Mofaz, 62-38 percent. The question now is whether Americans who were under the delusion that Livni represented a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s popular government will get the message.

The Kadima that Mofaz will lead into the next election is vastly diminished from the juggernaut formed by Ariel Sharon when he left Likud in the wake of the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Sharon skimmed the biggest opportunists in Labor and Likud to create what many imagined to be the first viable centrist political grouping in the country’s history. But after its bigger-than-life leader was removed from the scene by a stroke, Kadima was seen to be an empty shell whose only purpose was to find government posts for its leading personalities. Ehud Olmert led it to an election victory in 2006 in the immediate aftermath of Sharon’s illness but was soon proved to be hopelessly over his head.

Livni served as his foreign minister and hoped to replace him after the disastrous Lebanon war but was outmaneuvered by Olmert. That was an early sign she had no capacity for leadership. She got her chance to run for prime minister in 2009. As a fresh face with no corruption charges currently pending against her, Livni ran a good campaign and enabled Kadima to win the most seats. However Netanyahu’s coalition of center-right parties far eclipsed its total. But rather than serve under another rival, she made the fatal mistake of leading Kadima into the opposition. The problem was that Livni and Kadima lacked any coherent vision of a different approach to Israel’s problems. Though Americans who disliked Netanyahu saw her as the pro-peace alternative, Israelis were aware her views on the issues were almost indistinguishable from those of the Likud leader. Her only real disagreement with him was based in her conviction that she ought to be Israel’s prime minister, a point on which few of her countrymen, even the members of her own party, agreed.

Some Israeli pundits think the selection of Mofaz is a blow to Netanyahu, as he was obviously relishing a chance to trounce her at the polls. But the former general will be another disappointment to American Bibi-haters. The gruff former military man won’t win the hearts of Westerners longing for a weak Israeli leader. He will try to carve out a position slightly to the left of Netanyahu, but Israelis understand the Palestinians have no interest in negotiating a two-state solution under any terms they can live with. Though he may prevent Kadima from collapsing at the next ballot, the party is facing stiff competition from a newly revived Labor and another new centrist party led by Yair Lapid. Polls show that none have a ghost’s chance of beating Netanyahu and Likud.

Livni will, no doubt, have a successful career ahead of her speaking to liberal American Jewish groups for large speaking fees much as her former boss Olmert got cheers at the J Street conference last week that the former PM, who is a pariah in Israel, could never hope to get at home. But the lesson here is that Israelis who are more popular in Washington than in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are not to be taken seriously.

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Fake But Original

The New York Times memorable headline on the falsified documents relating to George W. Bush’s military service — “Fake but Accurate” — has almost been matched by a Haaretz columnist’s description of Peter Beinart’s theory on Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu: he writes that the theory “may not be accurate but is nonetheless spectacularly original.”

Beinart’s theory — that what Netanyahu supposedly dislikes about Jews is what Vladimir Jabotinsky supposedly disliked about them — is not supported by the Jabotinsky essay Beinart cited as evidence for it. “Spectacularly original” does not seem quite the right phrase for what Beinart did.

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The New York Times memorable headline on the falsified documents relating to George W. Bush’s military service — “Fake but Accurate” — has almost been matched by a Haaretz columnist’s description of Peter Beinart’s theory on Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu: he writes that the theory “may not be accurate but is nonetheless spectacularly original.”

Beinart’s theory — that what Netanyahu supposedly dislikes about Jews is what Vladimir Jabotinsky supposedly disliked about them — is not supported by the Jabotinsky essay Beinart cited as evidence for it. “Spectacularly original” does not seem quite the right phrase for what Beinart did.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Beinart’s book, whose publication date is not until this coming Tuesday, is how quickly the new media was able to analyze his March 19 New York Times op-ed that excerpted part of the book’s conclusion. Before the end of the day, not only had COMMENTARY posted three stellar analyses (by Omri Ceren, Seth Mandel, and Sol Stern), but there were more than 20 other critical pieces — from the left, right, and center – elsewhere the same day. It used to take truth a long time to get its boots on; these days it can get dressed almost simultaneously.

The debate regarding Beinart’s op-ed and book continued after March 19 – the contributions later in the week by Gary Rosenblatt, David Wolpe, Naftali Moses, and Ruthie Blum are particularly noteworthy. Your best 20 minutes today might be spent watching the video of the impassioned sermon by Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch (a self-described liberal) at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, entitled “Peter Beinart’s Offense Against Liberalism.”

After that, you might look at the list of Jabotinsky essays posted today at Boker tov, Boulder! His 1911 Passover essay, “The Four Sons,” could facilitate an interesting discussion at this year’s seder, recognizing the essay was written 37 years before the re-creation of the Jewish state for which Jabotinsky worked his entire adult life, including his final day.

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Obama Still Not Fooling Anyone on Israel

When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

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When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

Miller has made this point before. And when he says “He probably won’t have the chance,” that’s because the American public and their representatives in the Congress don’t want to downgrade the U.S.-Israeli relationship, so they will work to prevent Obama from doing so. The problem for the president is that he cannot argue that his way is more effective—he thus far has moved the parties in the conflict further away from where they’ve been in the past—or that he is the victim. After all, even Clinton—who never hid his disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu–got Netanyahu to sign a deal, and with Yasser Arafat no less.

Under the previous two administrations—one Democratic, one Republican–the Israeli right, left, and center have all signed agreements, made final-status offers, or led Israel to make unprecedented sacrifices for the peace process. As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote recently: “Israelis still recall with disbelief how Obama refused to honor Bush’s written commitment to Ariel Sharon—that the U.S. would support settlement blocs being incorporated into Israel proper. And never has an American president treated an Israeli prime minister with such shabbiness as Obama has treated Netanyahu. Indeed one gets the impression that of all the world’s leaders, Obama most detests the prime minister of Israel.”

Read that last sentence again and understand why it matters that Obama thinks less of Israel than his predecessors did, and why he has failed both the Israelis and the Palestinians because of it.

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The Cost of Inaction on Iranian Nukes

Jeffrey Goldberg, Ronen Bergman, and various other commentators believe that an Israeli strike on Iran is more likely than not this year. I agree that the odds are in favor of such a preemptive strike, and that there are compelling reasons for Israel to act before November—not only because of the progress Iran is likely to make in its nuclear program by the fall but also because of a widespread perception that President Obama will have to be more supportive of America’s closest ally in the region before the election than after it. What I don’t know—know one does—is what the impact of such strikes would be: how much would they set back the Iranian nuclear program and how would Iran respond?

Goldberg reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are fairly optimistic about the damage that Israel could do to Iran’s nuclear complex and sanguine about the prospects of Iranian retaliation: “Some Israeli officials believe that Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture, rather than declare all-out war,” Goldberg writes. Moreover, he adds: “Some Israeli security officials also believe that Iran won’t target American ships or installations in the Middle East in retaliation for a strike, as many American officials fear, because the leadership in Tehran understands that American retaliation for an Iranian attack could be so severe as to threaten the regime itself.

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Jeffrey Goldberg, Ronen Bergman, and various other commentators believe that an Israeli strike on Iran is more likely than not this year. I agree that the odds are in favor of such a preemptive strike, and that there are compelling reasons for Israel to act before November—not only because of the progress Iran is likely to make in its nuclear program by the fall but also because of a widespread perception that President Obama will have to be more supportive of America’s closest ally in the region before the election than after it. What I don’t know—know one does—is what the impact of such strikes would be: how much would they set back the Iranian nuclear program and how would Iran respond?

Goldberg reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are fairly optimistic about the damage that Israel could do to Iran’s nuclear complex and sanguine about the prospects of Iranian retaliation: “Some Israeli officials believe that Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture, rather than declare all-out war,” Goldberg writes. Moreover, he adds: “Some Israeli security officials also believe that Iran won’t target American ships or installations in the Middle East in retaliation for a strike, as many American officials fear, because the leadership in Tehran understands that American retaliation for an Iranian attack could be so severe as to threaten the regime itself.

The New York Times reports that a Central Command war game raised greater concerns about Iranian retaliation including possibly missile strikes on U.S. facilities and warships in the Persian Gulf. Those are legitimate concerns but Iran would be making a serious miscalculation if it gave the U.S. an excuse to unleash our own, much more formidable air forces against its nuclear installations. That doesn’t mean that Iran won’t do it—its leadership has miscalculated before and will do so again—but it should caution against assuming that the U.S. will automatically become embroiled in a war with Iran after an Israeli attack. I think Iran is more likely to unleash a massive missile barrage against Israel using its Hezbollah proxies and to step up terrorist attacks on U.S. targets in the region.

Whatever the risks of Israeli action, we must never lost sight of the disastrous consequences of inaction—namely the almost certain acquisition of nuclear weapons by the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism. That is a frightening thought that should put the fallout from any military action into perspective. Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated living soldier and a man who knows a thing or two about warfare, says, “A war is no picnic,” but he believes the consequences of action—which are certain to be far greater for Israel than for the U.S.—will be manageable: “There will not be 100,000 dead or 10,000 dead or 1,000 dead. The state of Israel will not be destroyed.” The other possibility is that if Iran does acquire nukes, then the destruction of Israel becomes a much more imaginable possibility.

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Specter of Euro Anti-Semitism Hangs over Toulouse Terror Attack

Today’s terror attack in Toulouse has shocked France as well as the rest of the civilized world. Since the perpetrator escaped the scene of the crime, his identity — or that of any group to which he might belong — remains still unknown. Nevertheless, his purpose was quite clear: to kill as many Jews as possible. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has often spoken out against anti-Semitism, has acted responsibly and we can expect appropriate statements from other world leaders in the wake of the cold-blooded murder of a teacher and three children at a Jewish school.

But it must be understood that such an attack cannot be understood outside of the context of a revival of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world. This wave of Jew-hatred has been fueled by an unreasoning anger at Israel and a campaign to delegitimize the state as well as its right to self-defense. But while some — including President Obama’s ambassador to Belgium — have attempted to rationalize this trend and to distinguish it from “traditional” anti-Semitism, that is a delusion. There is a very thin line between the efforts of those who seek to brand Israel as a pariah and those who simply wish (as do the Palestinian terrorists European intellectuals honor) to kill Jews. And as the world has just witnessed in Toulouse, that line is getting thinner all the time.

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Today’s terror attack in Toulouse has shocked France as well as the rest of the civilized world. Since the perpetrator escaped the scene of the crime, his identity — or that of any group to which he might belong — remains still unknown. Nevertheless, his purpose was quite clear: to kill as many Jews as possible. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has often spoken out against anti-Semitism, has acted responsibly and we can expect appropriate statements from other world leaders in the wake of the cold-blooded murder of a teacher and three children at a Jewish school.

But it must be understood that such an attack cannot be understood outside of the context of a revival of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world. This wave of Jew-hatred has been fueled by an unreasoning anger at Israel and a campaign to delegitimize the state as well as its right to self-defense. But while some — including President Obama’s ambassador to Belgium — have attempted to rationalize this trend and to distinguish it from “traditional” anti-Semitism, that is a delusion. There is a very thin line between the efforts of those who seek to brand Israel as a pariah and those who simply wish (as do the Palestinian terrorists European intellectuals honor) to kill Jews. And as the world has just witnessed in Toulouse, that line is getting thinner all the time.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted this morning in reaction to the French killings, it is no accident that such an event would happen the day before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was scheduled to receive a representative of the Hamas terrorist organization. The Israel haters of the UN and throughout Western Europe have concentrated their efforts in recent years on singling out Israel and Jewish institutions for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. They have tried to ban Israeli books and scholars, to make it impossible for Israeli products to be sold and to make its public officials fear arrest when visiting European capitals. They have imported the raw anti-Semitism so prevalent in the Arab and Muslim world and allowed it to find a home in countries where, before the Holocaust, such hate speech was common. And they have made such inroads among intellectuals who are always ready to believe any slander of Israel that anti-Semitic insinuations have found their way into the mainstream media of Europe.

The question that must be asked today is whether so much hatred for Jews can become commonplace in Europe without it eventually spilling over into violence? The answer is obviously not. The people of Israel understand that Palestinian terrorists are going to take every possible opportunity to fire missiles or attempt other sorts of attacks on Jewish targets. But those who treat the suffering of Israelis living under terrorist fire as unimportant when compared to the plight of Gazans who cheer such attacks must understand that once the genie of Jew-hatred is unleashed there is no way it can be quarantined in just one country.

The Toulouse attack is just one more reminder that the war against Israel isn’t one about borders or settlements but about the spirit of Jew hatred that has made it impossible for Palestinians to embrace peace offers. Anti-Zionism is just a thinly veiled version of the old recognizable anti-Semitism whose familiar calling card has been left in Toulouse. While we trust that the French authorities will eventually find the killer, let us not be deceived into thinking this is an incident that can be isolated from the atmosphere of Jew-hatred that hangs over Europe.

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Did Netanyahu’s “Bluff” Bring Obama and the Brits Together?

Israel isn’t the only American ally that was spurned for the first three years of the Obama administration. President Obama made no bones about his disdain for Britain after being elected president. But after making it clear that as far as he was concerned the “special relationship” between the two countries was as unwelcome as that bust of Winston Churchill he chucked out of the Oval Office, the president is finally getting around to making nice with Prime Minister David Cameron, with a state dinner in his honor and a trip with Obama to an NCAA basketball tournament game. Cameron, whom British pundit Melanie Phillips aptly nicknamed “David Obameron” as he shed conservative ideology during his less than scintillating election campaign, wants Obama’s embrace but isn’t too eager to be seen as under American influence as an unpopular war in Afghanistan winds down. But he and the president do seem to have one policy position very much in common: an ardent desire to prevent Israel from attacking Iran.

Along with France, the Brits have been talking much tougher about Iran in the last year than Obama. Under their leadership, the European Union is preparing to embargo Iranian oil, something the United States has not yet committed to. According to the New York Times, Cameron will urge Obama to escalate American support for sanctions on Iran which currently lag behind those imposed by Europe. But one of the main themes of his conclave with Obama appears to center on an almost hysterical fear that Israel will act on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear threat that both the United States and Britain have agreed poses a danger to the world. Britain’s stand on Iran as well as its embrace of the latest diplomatic initiative that would embroil the West in further negotiations with the Islamist regime appear to be motivated primarily by a desire to avoid an Israeli attack at all costs. All of which means that Israel’s signals that it is prepared to strike have at the very least resulted in getting the West to take the issue seriously.

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Israel isn’t the only American ally that was spurned for the first three years of the Obama administration. President Obama made no bones about his disdain for Britain after being elected president. But after making it clear that as far as he was concerned the “special relationship” between the two countries was as unwelcome as that bust of Winston Churchill he chucked out of the Oval Office, the president is finally getting around to making nice with Prime Minister David Cameron, with a state dinner in his honor and a trip with Obama to an NCAA basketball tournament game. Cameron, whom British pundit Melanie Phillips aptly nicknamed “David Obameron” as he shed conservative ideology during his less than scintillating election campaign, wants Obama’s embrace but isn’t too eager to be seen as under American influence as an unpopular war in Afghanistan winds down. But he and the president do seem to have one policy position very much in common: an ardent desire to prevent Israel from attacking Iran.

Along with France, the Brits have been talking much tougher about Iran in the last year than Obama. Under their leadership, the European Union is preparing to embargo Iranian oil, something the United States has not yet committed to. According to the New York Times, Cameron will urge Obama to escalate American support for sanctions on Iran which currently lag behind those imposed by Europe. But one of the main themes of his conclave with Obama appears to center on an almost hysterical fear that Israel will act on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear threat that both the United States and Britain have agreed poses a danger to the world. Britain’s stand on Iran as well as its embrace of the latest diplomatic initiative that would embroil the West in further negotiations with the Islamist regime appear to be motivated primarily by a desire to avoid an Israeli attack at all costs. All of which means that Israel’s signals that it is prepared to strike have at the very least resulted in getting the West to take the issue seriously.

At this point, it is impossible to argue that absent Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public willingness to contemplate the use of force to end the Iranian nuclear threat the U.S. and the Europeans would have committed themselves to the issue as much as they already have. In Bloomberg today, Jeffrey Goldberg hypothesizes that perhaps this is all the result of a gigantic bluff on Netanyahu’s part. He wonders whether all the speculation about an Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities was just a ploy intended to scare Obama, Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy into doing the right thing. If Goldberg were correct about this, then even Netanyahu’s critics would have to admit his bluff has worked, at least up until this point.

But the problem with that thesis is it is obvious neither Cameron nor Obama are that eager to actually go to the mat with the Iranians on the nuclear issue. Though Israel’s threats have brought the U.S. and the European Union to tiptoe up to the crippling sanctions that might get the attention of the ayatollahs, they have also prepared themselves an escape hatch via negotiations. With Iran having already demonstrated that they regard such talks as nothing more than an excuse to run out the clock while their nuclear program gets closer to the finish line, the question now is whether the West’s commitment to diplomacy is open-ended or not. If it is, then all that will have been accomplished is to have put off an Israeli attack, perhaps beyond the point where success would be possible. Netanyahu knows this and though he is rightly reluctant, as Goldberg insists, to pull the trigger on an attack, he may be forced to do so sooner or later because the West’s strategy of sanctions and diplomacy is unlikely to succeed.

Bluff or not, Netanyahu has brought the United States and Britain together at least for now. Whether their alarm at the prospect of Israel defending itself will lead to any real action to stop Iran — as opposed to posturing intended to prevent Israeli action — is yet to be seen.

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Beinart’s Backwards History

Newsweek excerpts Peter Beinart’s new book, The Crisis of Zionism, in which Beinart writes that Benjamin Netanyahu arrived to meet with President Obama in May 2009 with a “lack of interest in negotiations” — while Mahmoud Abbas arrived “eager to carry on the talks he had been pursuing with Netanyahu’s predecessor.” Beinart’s description is not only inconsistent with the public record, but distorts what Netanyahu tried to do in May 2009.

On May 18, 2009, sitting beside Obama, Netanyahu said he wanted “to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately” and thought an agreement could be reached if they recognized Israel as a Jewish state with the means to defend itself; (2) on May 28, 2009, the supposedly eager Abbas told the Washington Post, the day before his own meeting with Obama, that he planned to do nothing but sit back and watch the Obama administration slowly squeeze Netanyahu from office.

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Newsweek excerpts Peter Beinart’s new book, The Crisis of Zionism, in which Beinart writes that Benjamin Netanyahu arrived to meet with President Obama in May 2009 with a “lack of interest in negotiations” — while Mahmoud Abbas arrived “eager to carry on the talks he had been pursuing with Netanyahu’s predecessor.” Beinart’s description is not only inconsistent with the public record, but distorts what Netanyahu tried to do in May 2009.

On May 18, 2009, sitting beside Obama, Netanyahu said he wanted “to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately” and thought an agreement could be reached if they recognized Israel as a Jewish state with the means to defend itself; (2) on May 28, 2009, the supposedly eager Abbas told the Washington Post, the day before his own meeting with Obama, that he planned to do nothing but sit back and watch the Obama administration slowly squeeze Netanyahu from office.

Beinart tries to support his backwards history with a quote from a May 2009 presentation by Netanyahu’s top aide, Ron Dermer. I remember the quote; it comes from a video I posted at YouTube on May 3, 2009 and described in Contentions the next day. Here is the single sentence Beinart quotes from Dermer’s 20-minute presentation:

“There is no way now where you have on the Palestinian side a willingness to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues but yet despite that the previous government decided to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate and to focus on that and to bang their head against the wall.”

And here is an extended excerpt from Dermer’s remarks (with the portion Beinart quoted in italics, so readers can judge if Beinart accurately conveyed the gist of Dermer’s presentation):

[The path to peace] connects with something David [Makovsky] said. David said there’s a top-down approach and there’s a bottom-up approach. Netanyahu believes you have to combine both of those — which is why he has argued for a three-track approach to peace. There are two tracks that we consider bottom up, which is security and the economy. And there’s a third track – political negotiations.

Now what happened at Annapolis was that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiations. They invested all their energies, almost all their efforts, in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now where you have on the Palestinian side a willingness to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues.

But yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate, and to focus on that. They banged their head against the wall over and over and over again. And there is limited political capital in Israel, just as there is anywhere else; if you are focused on that — well then you are not focused on changing the reality on the ground. What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it I think in a rather dramatic fashion in the next two years particularly – is to work to change the reality on the ground.

First there’s security, which General Dayton is doing; he is recruiting and training Palestinian security forces … [The economic track] is led by Tony Blair … I’ve been in a few meetings with the prime minister and Tony Blair, and I am amazed at how many bureaucratic obstacles there are to Palestinian economic development. … [B]ut when you have a government focused on making the peace to end all peace, the deal of the century, and you don’t have a prime minister who takes the gavel and rolls up his sleeves and works day after day to move the bureaucracy along and to get through all the red tape, nothing will happen on the ground …

And the idea is that through economic development and through security cooperation you can create a context, a context where political progress is possible. What has happened up to now is to try to basically build a pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to step by step, layer and layer, have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy, provide jobs, provide hope, and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders. ….

I am not of the school of thought that says, well if you just give everybody an extra refrigerator, they are going to give up their identity. It doesn’t work that way. But you can moderate the conflict through economic development – it’s happened in many places around the world – Cyprus is one of them, Northern Ireland is another one; there are many, many examples. So this is what makes it possible.

The Clinton peace process ended in a war, after Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state. The Bush peace process ended in another war, after Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a state. The peace process designed by the man Beinart calls the “Jewish president” required Abbas only to watch, as Obama reneged on prior oral and written agreements with Israel, sought to put daylight between it and America, bypassed it on successive trips to the region, and publicly humiliated Netanyahu on his own trips to Washington. Obama demanded that Netanyahu recognize a Palestinian state in his Bar-Ilan speech, but never demanded Abbas give a Bir Zeit speech recognizing a Jewish one.

Netanyahu came to Washington with a new approach – one that might create a context in which negotiations could succeed. He was met by Obama’s rejection of prior American commitments, an insistence on preconditions that had never been a condition of negotiations before, and a refusal to negotiate by the supposedly eager Abbas, as part of a strategy to bring down the Israeli prime minister. As Ron Dermer might say, it doesn’t work that way.

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Dagan’s Tactical Disagreement

One of the standard themes of those who claim there is no need to take action to halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear capability is that intelligence experts dispute the notion that this program poses a threat to Israel or the West. The star of this campaign is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who will be featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes” this Sunday. The interview is being hailed by some as debunking what they consider to be the alarmism expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, therefore giving cover to those who wish to table the entire subject rather than to ramp up the pressure on Tehran.

But as with many previous statements by Dagan, the excerpts of the interview that have been released are bound to disappoint Iran’s apologists. Though Dagan is fiercely antagonistic to both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposed to an air strike on Iran now, he clearly views Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to Israel and believes it must be stopped. His differences with Israel’s government center on how much time we have before it is too late and what measures would be most effective in doing the job.

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One of the standard themes of those who claim there is no need to take action to halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear capability is that intelligence experts dispute the notion that this program poses a threat to Israel or the West. The star of this campaign is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who will be featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes” this Sunday. The interview is being hailed by some as debunking what they consider to be the alarmism expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, therefore giving cover to those who wish to table the entire subject rather than to ramp up the pressure on Tehran.

But as with many previous statements by Dagan, the excerpts of the interview that have been released are bound to disappoint Iran’s apologists. Though Dagan is fiercely antagonistic to both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposed to an air strike on Iran now, he clearly views Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to Israel and believes it must be stopped. His differences with Israel’s government center on how much time we have before it is too late and what measures would be most effective in doing the job.

Those who are promoting Dagan as a counterpoint to Netanyahu should remember a few key facts about his unprecedented public advocacy on the Iran issue that are not well known in the United States. Far from being an entirely dispassionate intelligence professional, Dagan’s anger at Netanyahu and Barak stems in no small part from the fact that the pair are the ones responsible for his being fired from his job. This happened after a series of intelligence failures–the most public of which was the disastrous hit on a Hamas official in Dubai.

Second, though interviewer Leslie Stahl focuses her attention on Dagan’s opposition to a strike on Iran now, the subtext to his position is that he spent much of his time at the head of the Mossad working on efforts to spike the ayatollah’s nuclear ambition. Under his leadership, Israeli intelligence concentrated much of its resources on covert activities whose purpose was to slow or stop progress toward an Iranian bomb. Although he says he considers the Iranian regime “rational” (though he added “not exactly our [idea of] rational”), that doesn’t mean he thinks containing a nuclear Iran (something President Obama has now specifically rejected) is a good idea.

Instead, as one might expect from a veteran spook, Dagan wants more emphasis on covert activities and other efforts that are aimed at an even more ambitious project than a mere surgical taking out of Iran’s nuclear facilities: regime change. In the sense that a democratic Iran, or at least one not ruled by Islamist fanatics, would be much safer for Israel and the rest of the world, he is, of course, right. But to say his opinions on this subject are somehow more realistic than the less grandiose intentions of Netanyahu and Barak, who only wish to make sure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t get his hands on a nuke, is obviously a stretch.

The question of how much time Israel has before it is too late to do anything about an Iranian nuclear weapon is not unimportant. Dagan is clearly of the opinion the situation is not yet critical. But, as he was careful to point out to Stahl, “I never said a lot of time. [There is] more time.”

All of which paints a picture of a difference of opinion within the top levels of Israeli intelligence which is more about tactics and timing than, as Netanyahu’s critics as well as Israel-haters seem to imply, about the critical nature of the threat itself. Meir Dagan’s opinions deserve to be heard and considered, but they should be understood as coming from within a consensus that views Iranian nukes as a deadly threat, not outside of it.

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The Purim Parallels

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often deploys historical analogies to help other world leaders understand the mindset of the Jewish people when faced with current threats or challenges. Tomorrow is Purim, the story of which Netanyahu brings up this time of year, each year, because of certain (mostly geographic) parallels.

The story begins on an alarming note when the evil Haman engineers a decree from the king he serves, Ahasuerus of Persia, calling for the annihilation of the empire’s Jews. The story ends with the humble Mordechai saving the king’s life and Queen Esther convincing her husband the king to sign a second decree discouraging the slaughter of the Jews and allowing and enabling the Jews to defend themselves against anyone who still attempted to carry out their annihilation. Esther, who was Jewish, fasted before making this request of the king, and so we fast today, the day before Purim, in solemn recognition both of Esther’s fast and the close call. But the point of the story and of Netanyahu’s decision to give President Obama a copy of the Book of Esther have been slightly misinterpreted.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often deploys historical analogies to help other world leaders understand the mindset of the Jewish people when faced with current threats or challenges. Tomorrow is Purim, the story of which Netanyahu brings up this time of year, each year, because of certain (mostly geographic) parallels.

The story begins on an alarming note when the evil Haman engineers a decree from the king he serves, Ahasuerus of Persia, calling for the annihilation of the empire’s Jews. The story ends with the humble Mordechai saving the king’s life and Queen Esther convincing her husband the king to sign a second decree discouraging the slaughter of the Jews and allowing and enabling the Jews to defend themselves against anyone who still attempted to carry out their annihilation. Esther, who was Jewish, fasted before making this request of the king, and so we fast today, the day before Purim, in solemn recognition both of Esther’s fast and the close call. But the point of the story and of Netanyahu’s decision to give President Obama a copy of the Book of Esther have been slightly misinterpreted.

First, the story of Purim is not about the “defeat” of the Persian empire, per se. Indeed, Mordechai went on to serve in the administration of Ahasuerus, and Esther remained the queen. Nor is it a story about Jewish power—the Jews needed the king to enable their self-defense, and the prayer and material deprivation of Jewish fast days is about faith and divine providence, not proud self-reliance. That’s why the primary purpose of raising the Purim analogy is to elucidate the differences. The Economist doesn’t like Netanyahu’s use of the Purim story and is tiring of his “Auschwitz complex,” as the magazine refers to it in a post on its Democracy in America blog.

“Mr Netanyahu is less attractive than Esther, but he seems to be wooing Mr. Obama and the American public just as effectively,” the Economist writes in a clumsy and undercooked metaphor of its own. The magazine faults Netanyahu for saying the following:

After all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state, to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny. That’s why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains master of its fate.

“News flash: Israel is not master of its fate,” the Economist interrupts. But neither, it says, is the United States–or Britain, Serbia, China, or Sweden. And that’s just fine. But that misses the point. It’s true that Israel isn’t, in the literal sense, the master of its own fate. Part of the lesson of Purim is about faith. But Netanyahu doesn’t mean Israel is in total control of everyone’s actions. In a January article for the New York Times Magazine, Ronen Bergman asked Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak about those within the Israeli military and political establishment who vocally oppose a strike on Iran’s nuclear installations. Barak offered a memorable response:

It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions. But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.

Another way of saying this would be the old Hebrew National slogan: “We answer to a higher authority.” The Economist calls this the “ghetto mentality,” and says Netanyahu’s gift to Obama of the Book of Esther proves “he’s still in it.” But the Economist gives the game away when faulting Netanyahu for Israel’s siege mentality, claiming “As prime minister in the late 1990s, he did more than any other Israeli leader to destroy the peace process.” The Economist elaborates:

Violent clashes and provocations erupted whenever the peace process seemed on the verge of concrete steps forward; the most charitable spin would be that the Israelis failed to exercise the restraint they might have shown in retaliating against Palestinian terrorism, had they been truly interested in progress towards a two-state solution.

That paragraph says it all. When the peace process gained momentum, the Palestinians engaged in terrorism to destroy the process. But “the most charitable spin” is that Netanyahu deserves blame for not rolling over. Even the Economist’s phrasing tells you where they are coming from: “the most charitable spin” is a dismissive way of saying “attempting to see the other side’s point of view.” But the Economist prejudges that view. It’s spin–no matter what it is, it’s spin.

Doubtless that same hostility will be displayed toward Netanyahu if one day the Economist wakes up to the news that Iran’s nuclear installations have been reduced to rubble. And that will be a sign that Netanyahu didn’t give Obama the Book of Esther as a map to the current reality. He will have been reminding the president of just the opposite: this time, the decree allowing and enabling the Jews to defend themselves won’t be signed, sealed, and delivered in a foreign capital.

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Why Obama Is Wrong on Iran Red Lines

The dispute which President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to resolve during their sit down earlier this week revolved around what the red line should be that outside powers would forbid Iran from crossing.

Prime Minister Netanyahu says Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capability. President Obama disagrees, and insists the red line should instead be actual Iranian production of nuclear weapons.  That Obama would allow an Iranian nuclear weapons capability, however, is akin to allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

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The dispute which President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to resolve during their sit down earlier this week revolved around what the red line should be that outside powers would forbid Iran from crossing.

Prime Minister Netanyahu says Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capability. President Obama disagrees, and insists the red line should instead be actual Iranian production of nuclear weapons.  That Obama would allow an Iranian nuclear weapons capability, however, is akin to allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran, the White House suggests, should be allowed to become like Japan, a state that has all the technology to put together a nuclear weapon but simply has not chosen to do so. Never mind that Iran is not Japan, and that the two states have very different ideologies. Cultural and moral relativism, however popular they may be in this administration, should never mean turning a blind eye toward an enemy achieving superior weapons technology just because an ally has it.

American policymakers have used the red line controversy to delude themselves into believing that intelligence reports which suggest Iran has yet to make a decision to develop nuclear weapons means the West still has time to allow diplomacy to work. The problem is that once Iran develops nuclear weapons capability—a capability which the IAEA suggests they aim to achieve—it would only take a few days to develop nuclear weapons.

Red lines are important, but so too is a basic understanding of the Iranian threat. Obama may mesmerize progressives with his rhetoric, but sometimes charisma is not enough to cover up basic facts. By defining red lines where he does, Obama is acknowledging he is prepared to see Iran develop nuclear weapons. That is not in the U.S. national interest, and it is disingenuous for Obama to suggest otherwise.

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Will Iran Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?

Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.

But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.

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Much of the attention devoted to U.S.-Israel diplomacy in recent months has been on whether the United States will seek to prevent the Jewish state from acting on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the utility of sanctions or diplomacy and how much more time these measures should be allowed before force can be used have not been resolved. Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that the Israelis are going to give the president a bit more time before launching their own strike.

But despite the near obsessive focus on the fractious Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the most important messages being sent from the speeches at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington were not those exchanged between those two leaders. Instead, it was the clear warning to Iran by Netanyahu that the Jewish people will not live under the shadow of annihilation. For all of the justified concern about what Obama will or will not do to try to impede the Israelis as he hangs on to the forlorn hope of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the fate of the Middle East hangs on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comprehended Netanyahu’s clarion call to action during his Monday night speech to the conference. Tehran must either stand down on its nuclear ambition or face an Israeli attack at some point in the not too distant future.

By stating unequivocally that Israel will always be master of its own fate when it comes to its security, Netanyahu was making it crystal clear that Obama’s misgivings about force will not preclude an Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the program is rendered invulnerable. However much time Netanyahu may give Obama, it is also easily understood that this is not an open-ended commitment. He is rightly convinced that neither renewed diplomatic activity nor even the stepped-up sanctions Obama now contemplates will convince the Iranians they must give in.

As Netanyahu said, Israel has waited patiently for years as Western diplomatic initiatives intended to cajole or buy off the Iranians have flopped. It has also looked on as the half-hearted sanctions against Iran were tried and has seen they will not answer the problem. And the Israeli leader is well aware that even the oil embargo mooted by some Western European nations and reluctantly seconded by Obama will also certainly fail due to lack of cooperation from China and Russia.

All of this renders much of the speculation about Obama’s intentions moot. He may argue that Israel must give diplomacy another chance to work, but few even in the administration believe any such initiative will succeed. It has already been amply demonstrated that the Iranians interpret any opening for talks as an invitation for delaying tactics that only serve to get them closer to their nuclear goal. As it is unlikely the president will let go of his illusions about diplomacy or engagement with Iran working until it is too late to do anything about their nuclear program, that puts the ball squarely in Israel’s court.

That is why the most important message delivered this week was not the exchange between Obama and Netanyahu so much as it was the one delivered to Iran. The Iranians may be laboring under their own set of delusions in which they cling to the notion that the United States can exercise a veto over Israeli self-defense. But Netanyahu’s speech, which drew a direct parallel between the current impasse over Iran and the refusal by the Allies to attack the rail lines to Auschwitz in 1944, is a signal that Obama is ultimately powerless to prevent the Jewish state from acting to prevent another Holocaust.

Iran has conducted itself in the last several years as if it believed it had impunity from retribution should it acquire a genocidal weapon to be used against the Jewish state it has sworn to destroy. It has also acted as if it believed, not unreasonably, that President Obama wasn’t serious about stopping them. But if Iran wishes to avoid having its nuclear facilities attacked, it needs to understand that Netanyahu was speaking in deadly earnest when he warned them of the consequences of their actions.

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Netanyahu Leans Toward Action at AIPAC

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish and exceptional speech at AIPAC tonight will no doubt set off days of speculation about whether or not he’s moving toward a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. There’s plenty of fodder to support either side of the argument. But these two quotes seem to indicate that Netanyahu is at least strongly leaning toward going it alone on an Iran strike:

“Unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward…We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

No diplomacy and no sanctions leave just one other option on the table. And the line at the end shows that Netanyahu hasn’t made Obama any promises against taking unilateral action.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish and exceptional speech at AIPAC tonight will no doubt set off days of speculation about whether or not he’s moving toward a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. There’s plenty of fodder to support either side of the argument. But these two quotes seem to indicate that Netanyahu is at least strongly leaning toward going it alone on an Iran strike:

“Unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward…We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

No diplomacy and no sanctions leave just one other option on the table. And the line at the end shows that Netanyahu hasn’t made Obama any promises against taking unilateral action.

Later in the speech, Netanyahu spoke about how America declined to bomb Auschwitz in 1944, out of concern that “such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”

“The American government today is different,” continued Netanyahu. “You heard that from President Obama’s speech yesterday. But here’s my point. The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. And the purpose of a Jewish state is to secure Jewish lives and a Jewish future. Never again…We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.”

Being a “master of its own fate” seems to suggest that Israel cannot let its window of opportunity run out without taking action. Netanyahu doesn’t appear willing to cede this power to the U.S. If that’s the case, an Israeli strike on Iran may not be far off.

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Bibi and Obama Sing Different Tunes

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke briefly to the press before their meeting at the White House today. The points they each chose to emphasize were telling and provide insight into their mindsets going into the high-pressure Iran discussion.

Obama spoke first, and stressed the bond between Israel and the U.S., as well as its close military coordination.

I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action.  And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation. I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented. And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.

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President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke briefly to the press before their meeting at the White House today. The points they each chose to emphasize were telling and provide insight into their mindsets going into the high-pressure Iran discussion.

Obama spoke first, and stressed the bond between Israel and the U.S., as well as its close military coordination.

I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action.  And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation. I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented. And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.

While the military cooperation between the two countries does remain close, there have been more communication breakdowns in recent months than the president chose to acknowledge. Israel has declined to share specifics about when it would strike Iran, and the U.S. has withheld sensitive intelligence information that would assist Israel’s covert sabotage campaign, The Daily Beast reported last month.

But Obama is obviously trying to repair – or at least publicly downplay – the trust deficit between his administration and Netanyahu’s.

Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister spoke about the unbreakable U.S.-Israeli relationship, without specifically mentioning the military partnership. He indicated that Israel would not ask Obama’s permission if it decides to use force against Iran’s nuclear program. And he reiterated that Israel reserves the right to defend itself, even if it’s done unilaterally:

I think that above and beyond that are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech — that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions. I believe that’s why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.

And after all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state  — to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny. And that’s why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.

Based on these comments, it doesn’t sound like either leader is willing to cede his current position. Obama still expects Israel to cooperate with the U.S. timeline on Iran, and Netanyahu is clearly committed to taking action with or without the U.S.

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