Commentary Magazine


Topic: Netanyahu

Obama and Bibi’s Dueling Agendas

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning, and the looming question is whether Obama was able to convince the Israeli leader to hold off on an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for assurances that the U.S. will take care of the problem militarily if necessary.

Obama was clear during his AIPAC speech yesterday that he won’t hesitate to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb, but the near-zero level trust between the president and Netanyahu may make it difficult for the prime minister to take this promise seriously.

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President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning, and the looming question is whether Obama was able to convince the Israeli leader to hold off on an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for assurances that the U.S. will take care of the problem militarily if necessary.

Obama was clear during his AIPAC speech yesterday that he won’t hesitate to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb, but the near-zero level trust between the president and Netanyahu may make it difficult for the prime minister to take this promise seriously.

At The Daily Beast, Eli Lake reports on the main issue of contention between Obama and Netanyahu: Israel wants to demolish Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, while the Obama administration has only indicated that it will use force to prevent Iran from obtaining the actual weapon itself:

At issue is that the United States and Israel disagree on what the trigger or “red line” should be for striking Iran’s nuclear program. The Israelis seek to destroy Iran’s ability to manufacture an atomic weapon, whereas President Obama has pledged only to stop Iran from making a weapon.

“The technical assessments are very similar,” Ephraim Asculai, an Israeli nuclear scientist who worked for 40 years at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, told The Daily Beast last week. “The discrepancies come at the definition of red lines, or the definition of the time when something must be done is considered.”

Asculai added, “The United States does not think the time has come when it must make a decision and must take severe action. There lies the big difference between the United States and Israel; Israel thinks the time is here.”

Israel also has a much smaller window for launching an effective attack on Iran’s nuclear program, because its military capabilities are less extensive than those of the U.S. If Obama is unable to fully convince Netanyahu that he’ll use force at the necessary time, then it becomes far more likely Israel will take unilateral military action – and soon.

The icy relationship between Obama and Netanyahu was thrust into the spotlight in the run-up to last year’s AIPAC event, when Netanyahu lectured the president at a joint press conference. This year, the White House skipped the traditional presser, probably in order to avoid a similarly embarrassing spectacle. But we’re sure to get a sense of how successful the meeting was tonight, when Netanyahu gives his major address to AIPAC.

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Goldberg Interview Can’t Disguise the Divide Between Obama and Israel

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was rewarded for years of diligent cheerleading for Barack Obama with an exclusive interview that was published this morning. Goldberg asks some interesting questions as well as some that can be characterized as mere sucking up. But though there’s not much here that we haven’t already heard, the transcript of the exchange provides a summary of the Obama attempt to persuade Israel, American supporters of Israel, Iran and the rest of the world that he means business about stopping Tehran from gaining nuclear weapons.

Obama is at pains to try to assert he doesn’t “bluff” when it comes to threatening the use of force, but after three years of a feckless engagement policy followed by a largely ineffective effort to impose sanctions on Iran, it’s hard to find anyone who really believes he would actually launch a strike to prevent the ayatollahs from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. Much of what the president says in this interview is exactly what he should be stating. But his credibility is undermined by his disingenuous attempt to deny that until his re-election campaign began the keynote of his Middle East policy was to distance the United States from Israel. Equally false is his attempt to make it seem as if he doesn’t despise Israel’s prime minister.

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The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was rewarded for years of diligent cheerleading for Barack Obama with an exclusive interview that was published this morning. Goldberg asks some interesting questions as well as some that can be characterized as mere sucking up. But though there’s not much here that we haven’t already heard, the transcript of the exchange provides a summary of the Obama attempt to persuade Israel, American supporters of Israel, Iran and the rest of the world that he means business about stopping Tehran from gaining nuclear weapons.

Obama is at pains to try to assert he doesn’t “bluff” when it comes to threatening the use of force, but after three years of a feckless engagement policy followed by a largely ineffective effort to impose sanctions on Iran, it’s hard to find anyone who really believes he would actually launch a strike to prevent the ayatollahs from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. Much of what the president says in this interview is exactly what he should be stating. But his credibility is undermined by his disingenuous attempt to deny that until his re-election campaign began the keynote of his Middle East policy was to distance the United States from Israel. Equally false is his attempt to make it seem as if he doesn’t despise Israel’s prime minister.

Obama complains, with Goldberg’s assent, that it is unfair to characterize his administration as unfriendly to Israel. But in order to buy into his assumption, you have to ignore the entire tenor and much of the substance of the U.S.-Israel relationship since January 2009. Though, as I have often written, Barack Obama has not sought to obstruct the decades-old security alliance between the two countries, he has needlessly and repeatedly quarreled with Israel’s government in such a way as to create the justified impression there is a wide gap between America and the Jewish state on a host of issues including borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem and settlements.

More to the point, despite Obama’s statements about an Iranian nuke being as much a danger to the United States and the West as it is to Israel, talk is cheap, and that is all he has ever done on the issue. That has left Israel with the impression Obama will never take action on an issue that is an existential threat to the Jewish state.

The Goldberg interview is, of course, not just one more salvo in the administration’s charm offensive to American Jewish voters. It is part of his effort to head off an Israeli strike on Iran, something he may fear far more than the ayatollahs getting their fingers on the nuclear button. For all of his lip service to the Iranian threat, Obama clearly is still more worried about Israel.

But the problem is Obama is bluffing when he talks about being willing to hit Iran. His halfhearted attempt to force Iran to its knees via sanctions is failing, and the idea that waiting until the end of the year (when, Obama hopes, he will be safely re-elected and thus free from needing to worry about Jewish voters or donors) to see if it works is just hot air. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will be in Washington to meet with Obama following his address to the AIPAC conference, knows this, and that will be focal point of their next confrontation.

Netanyahu knows Obama does not have his country’s back despite Goldberg’s cajoling this promise out of the president. But he will likely smile when he reads Obama’s answer to Goldberg’s question about the relationship between the two men. Though Obama has bragged of his close relationships with other leaders such as the Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he makes little effort to disguise his contempt for Netanyahu. He tells Goldberg he and Netanyahu are too busy to discuss anything other than policy. Obama then slips up a bit and attempts to explain their differences as being the result of belonging to “different political traditions,” as if there was some sort of natural tension between being an American Democrat and an Israeli Likudnik. This actually tells us more about Obama than anything else.

The truth is, these two “traditions” are not natural antagonists because they are the result of two entirely different political systems and histories. If Obama sees them as inherently opposed to each other it is because his conception of American liberalism sees an Israeli nationalist faction dedicated to their nation’s security as somehow antithetical to his own view. In fact, the origins of both parties are “liberal” with a small “l” in the sense that they are based on the idea of democracy and opposed to socialism. Indeed, the Likud is far closer to both American major parties because it is dedicated to free market principles the Israeli left abhors.

The divide here is not between a Democrat and a member of the Likud but between an American who is ambivalent about Israel and an Israeli who is deeply sympathetic to the United States. That is why a close reading of Goldberg’s attempt to help Obama to portray himself as Israel’s best friend only reinforces the phony nature of the president’s Jewish charm offensive.

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Iran and Obama Share a Common Goal: Stopping Israel

Veteran foreign policy pundit Leslie Gelb taps into an uncomfortable truth today when he writes in the Daily Beast about the unspoken agendas at play in the debate about how to stop a nuclear Iran. As Gelb puts it, both the Obama administration and the Islamist regime in Iran are employing a common tactic as well as a shared goal in their diplomatic maneuverings in the dispute about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Both are doing their best to pretend there is a serious chance for substantive negotiations on the nuclear issue. And both are doing so because their priority is not so much to actually resolve the issue but to prevent Israel from attacking Iran. Given that President Obama has been escalating his rhetoric about his determination to stop Iran’s plans, this is a shocking charge, since it casts everything Washington is saying on the subject in a cynical light. The problem though is Gelb is almost certainly right.

Gelb stipulates that the common agenda between Washington and Tehran does not mean they are acting in concert. The lines of communication between the two governments are so tenuous that such collaboration would be impossible even if suspicion between them were not so intense. But the priority for both is to be able to postpone any resolution of the issue. Obama’s hope is that by holding out the prospect sanctions will bring Tehran to heel, he can exert sufficient leverage on Israel in order to prevent them from attacking Iran. Such an attack would unleash a host of unforeseen circumstances that might upset his re-election plans. Similarly, the ayatollahs would like to give just enough room for talks about talks in order to play for more time to continue developing their weapon plans. Yet, because it is painfully obvious sanctions will not work and the only point of negotiations would be to allow Iran to run out the clock on their nuclear timetable, the push to put off any attack appears to be tantamount to a concession that the West and Israel will have to live with a nuclear Iran.

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Veteran foreign policy pundit Leslie Gelb taps into an uncomfortable truth today when he writes in the Daily Beast about the unspoken agendas at play in the debate about how to stop a nuclear Iran. As Gelb puts it, both the Obama administration and the Islamist regime in Iran are employing a common tactic as well as a shared goal in their diplomatic maneuverings in the dispute about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Both are doing their best to pretend there is a serious chance for substantive negotiations on the nuclear issue. And both are doing so because their priority is not so much to actually resolve the issue but to prevent Israel from attacking Iran. Given that President Obama has been escalating his rhetoric about his determination to stop Iran’s plans, this is a shocking charge, since it casts everything Washington is saying on the subject in a cynical light. The problem though is Gelb is almost certainly right.

Gelb stipulates that the common agenda between Washington and Tehran does not mean they are acting in concert. The lines of communication between the two governments are so tenuous that such collaboration would be impossible even if suspicion between them were not so intense. But the priority for both is to be able to postpone any resolution of the issue. Obama’s hope is that by holding out the prospect sanctions will bring Tehran to heel, he can exert sufficient leverage on Israel in order to prevent them from attacking Iran. Such an attack would unleash a host of unforeseen circumstances that might upset his re-election plans. Similarly, the ayatollahs would like to give just enough room for talks about talks in order to play for more time to continue developing their weapon plans. Yet, because it is painfully obvious sanctions will not work and the only point of negotiations would be to allow Iran to run out the clock on their nuclear timetable, the push to put off any attack appears to be tantamount to a concession that the West and Israel will have to live with a nuclear Iran.

An attack on Iran by Israel would be a perilous undertaking, so it is not surprising Israel’s government has not made up its mind about making such a decision. However, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak understand that even if the West undertakes a complete oil embargo of Iran sometime later this year that would not guarantee Tehran would wave the white flag on its nuclear plans. They also know the longer they wait the chances for a successful strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities will diminish.

But the biggest factor influencing their decision will be their level of trust in President Obama’s promises on Iran. The administration has done little to inspire confidence in their sanctions plan due to the reluctance with which they have pursued the project. The Israelis know Obama’s default position will always be a preference for negotiations even if talks with Iran are not merely doomed to failure but will actually serve the Islamist regime’s purpose of delaying action.

Even more worrisome is that the administration’s determination to squelch unilateral action by Israel seems to be greater than its alarm about Iran. Hence, the multiple statements by American defense and military figures seeking to throw cold water on the idea of an attack on Iran may have had the opposite effect on Israel than Obama intended. Rather than convince them to listen to the Americans’ advice and rely on their diplomatic tactics to stop Iran, they may have instead persuaded Netanyahu and Barak that Obama has no intention of ever taking action. While Obama must continue to insist an Iranian nuke is a non-starter while he is running for re-election, the Israelis understand the White House may be singing a far different tune next January once Obama’s lease on the premises is extended for another four years.

Like Gelb, the Israelis may well believe Obama’s show of concern about Iran and his notion that sanctions and diplomacy will avert that nuclear threat is mere playacting whose only purpose is to put them off. The question facing Netanyahu and Barak is whether they are prepared to play along with Obama while hoping a delay will not prove fatal to their country’s security.

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Netanyahu’s Surprising Achievement: Political Stability

Three years ago, most observers of the Middle East were sure about one thing: the newly elected coalition government in Israel being put together by Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t last. In particular, the Obama administration, which was only a month old itself, was hopeful Netanyahu would quickly flop and be replaced by the more pliant Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party. Thirty-six months later, as the Israeli prime minister prepares to journey to Washington for another crucial summit with President Obama, there is no talk about the post-Netanyahu era. Though the Jewish state remains beset with a host of problems, both foreign and domestic, the volatility that has plagued the country’s political system for decades is largely absent these days.

His is actually the first Israeli cabinet to last this long in 20 years. Given that a breakup in his coalition is unlikely, it is almost a certainty that it will serve out its full four-year-term, which will be the first time that has happened since Menachem Begin was prime minister more than 30 years ago. And with polls projecting that Netanyahu and the Likud will easily win the next election when it occurs sometime in 2013, it is clear what we are seeing in Israel is a new era of political stability. While this is a remarkable personal achievement for Netanyahu, its impact goes deeper than that. When Netanyahu arrives in Washington next month, President Obama will know he is dealing with a leader who is secure in power and has the backing of his nation.

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Three years ago, most observers of the Middle East were sure about one thing: the newly elected coalition government in Israel being put together by Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t last. In particular, the Obama administration, which was only a month old itself, was hopeful Netanyahu would quickly flop and be replaced by the more pliant Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party. Thirty-six months later, as the Israeli prime minister prepares to journey to Washington for another crucial summit with President Obama, there is no talk about the post-Netanyahu era. Though the Jewish state remains beset with a host of problems, both foreign and domestic, the volatility that has plagued the country’s political system for decades is largely absent these days.

His is actually the first Israeli cabinet to last this long in 20 years. Given that a breakup in his coalition is unlikely, it is almost a certainty that it will serve out its full four-year-term, which will be the first time that has happened since Menachem Begin was prime minister more than 30 years ago. And with polls projecting that Netanyahu and the Likud will easily win the next election when it occurs sometime in 2013, it is clear what we are seeing in Israel is a new era of political stability. While this is a remarkable personal achievement for Netanyahu, its impact goes deeper than that. When Netanyahu arrives in Washington next month, President Obama will know he is dealing with a leader who is secure in power and has the backing of his nation.

There are a number of reasons for Netanyahu’s success, but the most important of them is that experience helps. Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 was undermined by an arrogant refusal to listen to his cabinet colleagues and a reckless disregard for the impact of his statements on both his party and his nation’s sole ally, the United States. At that time, Netanyahu was wrongly blamed for derailing the peace process even though he repeatedly made concessions for the sake of peace while also getting the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror. But his successes were overshadowed by his surly personality, and by the time he faced the electorate again, he had few friends left.

This time around, Netanyahu has been wiser, avoiding needless quarrels and maneuvering carefully in order to keep a diverse coalition moving in the right direction. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu Party could have dismantled the government several times, but Netanyahu smartly kept him inside the tent rather than out of it. Though Lieberman has continually talked about breaking up the coalition, he now finds himself stuck in it because a new election would diminish rather than strengthen his forces.

He has also been fortunate with his foes. Livni has been a hopeless opposition leader. Having refused Netanyahu’s offer of a coalition and a high cabinet post because she thought she would soon replace him, she now finds her party supplanted in the eyes of the public as the main alternative to the Likud by a resurgent Labor.

Even more important, Netanyahu has benefited from being the bête noire of President Obama. In the past, Israeli prime ministers always feared the enmity of American presidents, because to jeopardize the alliance was considered the political kiss of death in the Jewish state. But Obama is the least popular American president in history. Every attack launched on Netanyahu only strengthened his hold on power. By standing up to Obama on the future of Jerusalem and the 1967 lines, Netanyahu gained support rather than losing it as the president expected.

Though Obama has made no secret of his dislike for Netanyahu, the president must now acknowledge that Netanyahu is likely to remain as prime minister for the foreseeable future. Obama must also come to grips with the fact that his plans to revive the peace process has failed, and that Netanyahu’s evaluation of the Palestinians’ unwillingness to negotiate was far closer to the mark than his own opposition. Netanyahu’s political strength also makes it harder for Obama to try to muscle the Israeli on the issue of stopping Iran from going nuclear.

Three years after he plotted to dump Netanyahu, the president is also hoping Netanyahu will do nothing to complicate his own chances of re-election. As he attempts to walk back his quarrels with Jerusalem as part of his Jewish charm offensive, Obama must pay court to Netanyahu. The irony of this turnabout can’t be lost on the Israeli or his antagonist in the White House.

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Netanyahu Visit Will Highlight Obama’s Jewish Charm Offensive

During the first three years of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to the White House have been the occasion for some memorable fights with the president. He has been ambushed, insulted, lectured and, on at least one occasion, gave back as good as he got as he pushed back against Obama’s attempt to undercut Israel’s negotiating position with the Palestinians and its rights in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu’s next visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will probably be a very different one entirely. With the president fighting hard to retain the votes and the financial support of American Jews and other friends of Israel, Netanyahu can expect that Obama will be on his very best behavior when he arrives next month for a visit that was announced yesterday.

With the threat of a nuclear Iran hanging over both nations and with the United States eager to dissuade Israel from striking first on its own, the two men have some serious business to conduct. But it is impossible to ignore the political implications of this summit. With evidence mounting that Obama and the Democrats have been bleeding Jewish support in the last year, the visit will take the president’s charm offensive aimed at convincing the Jewish community he is Israel’s best friend to a new level. Netanyahu has good reason to play along with Obama’s pretense, as he may have to go on dealing with him until January 2017. But the question remains whether the two men can sufficiently paper over their personal hostility and policy differences in order for the visit to have the effect the president’s political handlers are aiming for.

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During the first three years of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to the White House have been the occasion for some memorable fights with the president. He has been ambushed, insulted, lectured and, on at least one occasion, gave back as good as he got as he pushed back against Obama’s attempt to undercut Israel’s negotiating position with the Palestinians and its rights in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu’s next visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will probably be a very different one entirely. With the president fighting hard to retain the votes and the financial support of American Jews and other friends of Israel, Netanyahu can expect that Obama will be on his very best behavior when he arrives next month for a visit that was announced yesterday.

With the threat of a nuclear Iran hanging over both nations and with the United States eager to dissuade Israel from striking first on its own, the two men have some serious business to conduct. But it is impossible to ignore the political implications of this summit. With evidence mounting that Obama and the Democrats have been bleeding Jewish support in the last year, the visit will take the president’s charm offensive aimed at convincing the Jewish community he is Israel’s best friend to a new level. Netanyahu has good reason to play along with Obama’s pretense, as he may have to go on dealing with him until January 2017. But the question remains whether the two men can sufficiently paper over their personal hostility and policy differences in order for the visit to have the effect the president’s political handlers are aiming for.

Netanyahu will be in Washington to speak to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in early March (Obama is also scheduled to speak at the conference), which makes the invitation to the White House a perfect opportunity for the administration to continue its attempt to erase the bad feelings three years of non-stop spats have created. Having arrived at the White House in January 2009 determined to scrap what he saw as the Bush administration’s preference for Israel over the Palestinians, Obama set out to create more distance between the two countries. That process was exacerbated by Netanyahu’s election as prime minister a month later. Obama, who even during the 2008 presidential campaign had made it clear he was no fan of the Likud, picked unnecessary fights with Netanyahu about settlement freezes and Jerusalem. Initially, the administration seemed to want to force Netanyahu from office, but when their strong-arm tactics strengthened rather than weakened him, Obama was forced to resort to a diplomatic war of attrition against the Israeli.

In 2010, following the president’s decision to treat a housing start in an existing Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem during a visit to the city by Vice President Biden as a crisis, Netanyahu was scolded by Secretary of State Clinton and then personally insulted by the president during a subsequent trip to Washington. A year later the tension boiled over again when Obama ambushed Netanyahu on the eve of another visit by announcing his intention to make the 1967 lines be the starting point for future peace negotiations. But the ploy backfired on Obama when even most members of his own party backed Netanyahu’s opposition to the stand. He was forced to endure a public lecture by the prime minister on the topic of Israel’s security and then look on as Netanyahu was cheered like a conquering hero by a joint meeting of Congress.

Since then, Obama has been more circumspect about his criticisms of Israel as he turned to the difficult task of walking back his antagonism in order to be re-elected. Of late, he has touted himself as having done more for Israel’s security than any president. Though this is, at best, an exaggeration, Obama has not obstructed the long-standing security alliance.

Fortunately for the president, the Palestinians never took advantage of the pressure he exerted on the Israelis, and the peace process will probably be on the back burner next month. But that doesn’t mean there will be no tension during the conclave. Though the administration has escalated its rhetoric against Iran and has, albeit unwillingly, started to take steps toward enforcing tough sanctions against Tehran, it has seemed more alarmed by the prospect of Israel striking Iran’s facilities than of the ayatollahs getting their hands on a nuclear weapon.

The question on the table in March will center on whether the United States can give Israel a reasonable alternative to the use of force. Given the existential threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel — as well as to the rest of the region and the West — Netanyahu is rightly worried that any further delay will work to Iran’s interests and against that of his own country. Netanyahu will go to Washington probably hoping for a promise that the U.S. will not wait indefinitely for sanctions to work before agreeing to condone or join an Israeli strike. Obama wants Israel to agree not to strike this year and to present a united front that will strengthen both his diplomatic and political posture.

Though Netanyahu can expect a far friendlier reception than during his previous visits, the problem is not only that his goals are antithetical to those of the president but that Obama’s hostility to the Israeli (which he foolishly aired over an open microphone during a chat with French President Sarkozy) is such that it is far from clear whether he can contain his animus long enough to get the friendly photo-op he needs to bolster his re-election campaign.

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Israeli Official: “We Have Every Intention of Defending Ourselves”

Following this morning’s attempted terror attacks against Israeli personnel in Georgia and India, Israeli officials said they would respond, though declined to specify further.

“I don’t think that it would be true to say that we are going to sit back and twiddle our thumbs,” Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters and others on a late-morning conference call organized by The Israel Project. Hirschson said, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have already indicated, “we have every intention of defending ourselves”–the primary obligation, he said, of any sovereign state under attack.

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Following this morning’s attempted terror attacks against Israeli personnel in Georgia and India, Israeli officials said they would respond, though declined to specify further.

“I don’t think that it would be true to say that we are going to sit back and twiddle our thumbs,” Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters and others on a late-morning conference call organized by The Israel Project. Hirschson said, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have already indicated, “we have every intention of defending ourselves”–the primary obligation, he said, of any sovereign state under attack.

Earlier, Netanyahu pointed the finger at Iran and its terror proxies, though Iran denies any involvement:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran and Hezbollah of being behind Monday’s double terror attack on the Israeli embassies in India and Georgia.

Earlier, an explosion hit an Israeli diplomatic car near the embassy in New Delhi, injuring the wife of a diplomat stationed with the Defense Ministry’s mission in India. In Georgia, an explosive device was found in a Tbilisi embassy employee’s car and was neutralized safely.bi

The coordinated attack is believed to be linked to the fourth anniversary marking the assassination of Hezbollah arch-terrorist Imad Mugniyah.

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Get Used to it Washington, Netanyahu’s Not Going Anywhere

Dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a constant theme of the Obama administration. While President Obama has cuddled up to an Islamist troublemaker and human rights violator like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he has made no secret of his abhorrence of Netanyahu. Obama has tried to humiliate Netanyahu and has abused him in public (via an open microphone while chatting with French President Sarkozy). Indeed, American policy toward Israel in 2009 seemed aimed at forcing the newly elected Netanyahu from office. Those maneuvers failed and the U.S. foreign policy establishment as well as its European counterparts settled down to wait for Netanyahu to be beaten at the next election.

It’ll be a long wait for Netanyahu’s critics as his government, which Obama thought was so unstable that it might be supplanted with a more pliant one led by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, seems likely to last until the prime minister is ready to ask the Israeli electorate for another term. But whether he chooses to go for an early election sometime this year or wait out the full four years that would leave him in office until 2013, right now it appears as if he is certain to win the next election. That’s the verdict of Shmuel Rosner, who writes in the International Herald Tribune (read here on the New York Times website) that not only is Netanyahu favored to win the next Israeli election, party realignment there means he is pretty much the only person who has any chance to lead the government.

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Dislike of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a constant theme of the Obama administration. While President Obama has cuddled up to an Islamist troublemaker and human rights violator like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he has made no secret of his abhorrence of Netanyahu. Obama has tried to humiliate Netanyahu and has abused him in public (via an open microphone while chatting with French President Sarkozy). Indeed, American policy toward Israel in 2009 seemed aimed at forcing the newly elected Netanyahu from office. Those maneuvers failed and the U.S. foreign policy establishment as well as its European counterparts settled down to wait for Netanyahu to be beaten at the next election.

It’ll be a long wait for Netanyahu’s critics as his government, which Obama thought was so unstable that it might be supplanted with a more pliant one led by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, seems likely to last until the prime minister is ready to ask the Israeli electorate for another term. But whether he chooses to go for an early election sometime this year or wait out the full four years that would leave him in office until 2013, right now it appears as if he is certain to win the next election. That’s the verdict of Shmuel Rosner, who writes in the International Herald Tribune (read here on the New York Times website) that not only is Netanyahu favored to win the next Israeli election, party realignment there means he is pretty much the only person who has any chance to lead the government.

Rosner details what is now common knowledge in Israeli politics though few Americans seem to pay attention to these facts. Kadima, which Obama once believed was well-placed to oust Netanyahu, is likely to be squeezed out of its current place as the leading opposition party in the next Knesset. It will face brutal competition both from a revived Labor Party that will run on a social justice platform rather than emphasizing the peace process as in the past as well as a new centrist party led by Yair Lapid. Kadima, which was formed by Ariel Sharon in 2005 by skimming off the leading opportunists in Likud and Labor, has no rationale other than office seeking and will likely be halved by the electorate at the ballot box.

That will leave Netanyahu and Likud in the drivers’ seat. Rather than being weakened by confrontations with Obama, as was the case with previous prime ministers who tangled with American presidents, Netanyahu has gained strength because Israelis see Obama as hostile to their country and as having materially damaged the chances for peace. And with Livni fading from sight, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman under a legal cloud and the two new contenders, Labor’s Shelly Yachimovitz and Lapid, seen as too inexperienced to be considered for the prime minister’s chair, Netanyahu is the only conceivable prime minister in the next Knesset.

Given the hostility between Washington and Jerusalem in the last three years, that will make for a frosty alliance if Obama is re-elected too. But no matter who is sitting in the White House a year from now, they had better get used to the idea that Israel’s leader will be named Netanyahu for some time to come.

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Turkey Paying a Price for Betrayal of Israel

I wrote earlier today about the human rights violations that have become routine under the regime of President Obama’s buddy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In addition to making hypocrites out of his friends in Washington, this also raises important questions about Turkey’s standing to criticize Israel for measures intended to defend their citizens against terrorist attack. Under Erdoğan, Turkey hasn’t merely abandoned its longstanding strategic alliance with Israel; it has also become Hamas’s new chief sponsor.

The president may consider his friend’s embrace of an Islamist terror group to be of no importance, but Turkey’s rogue diplomacy is having a ripple effect on stability in the eastern Mediterranean. As historian Benny Morris points out in an article in The National Interest published last week, Israel isn’t taking Turkey’s betrayal sitting down.

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I wrote earlier today about the human rights violations that have become routine under the regime of President Obama’s buddy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In addition to making hypocrites out of his friends in Washington, this also raises important questions about Turkey’s standing to criticize Israel for measures intended to defend their citizens against terrorist attack. Under Erdoğan, Turkey hasn’t merely abandoned its longstanding strategic alliance with Israel; it has also become Hamas’s new chief sponsor.

The president may consider his friend’s embrace of an Islamist terror group to be of no importance, but Turkey’s rogue diplomacy is having a ripple effect on stability in the eastern Mediterranean. As historian Benny Morris points out in an article in The National Interest published last week, Israel isn’t taking Turkey’s betrayal sitting down.

In response to the Turkish embrace of Hamas, Israel has reached out to both Greece and Cyprus. Greece was among the most hostile countries in Europe to Israel but has now achieved a better understanding of the Jewish state since the Turks have become its foe. To seal this new understanding, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a visit to Cyprus next month.

Israel has long tried to establish alliances with states on the periphery of the region to balance the solid wall of hate from Arab and Muslim states. As Morris notes, that has led to good relations with newly independent Southern Sudan, a mostly Christian country.

Turkey is locked in a decades-long standoff with the Greeks in Cyprus. But now the Greek Cypriots in Nicosia are seriously considering an Israeli request to station military aircraft on their territory. As Morris writes, the Cypriots, who have faced intimidation from a superior Turkish military, are looking to Israel for help:

The Cypriots are apparently interested in Israeli assistance in monitoring the air space above the gas fields and drilling equipment and in augmenting their (small) navy’s patrols in their economic waters. [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak has asked the Cypriots to allow Israel to station aircraft in the Papandreu Air Base outside the town of Paphos in western Cyprus. And two months ago, the Israeli and Cypriot air forces held a joint exercise.

Turkey, which once prided itself on trying to be part of Europe, now aspires to a new caliphate. They may have thought its erstwhile ally had nowhere to turn once they were dumped. But by pushing Israel into the arms of Turkey’s Cypriot antagonists, they may have considerably worsened their own strategic situation.

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Obama Leads From Behind Israel on Iran

Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

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Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

Ignatius goes on to say Obama and Panetta have told the Israelis not to strike, because they think it will “derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold.”

Anyone wondering why the Israelis seem to be moving closer to deciding to attack on their own need only read that statement. The Israelis — and the Iranians — know the current sanctions program is nowhere close to stopping Iran. That is because Obama has not only hesitated to put the stringent sanctions recently passed by Congress (over his objections) into effect but also has never forced the Treasury Department to enforce the existing far weaker measures aimed at Iran.

Though Israel knows it cannot do the job of setting back Iran’s nuclear program as well as the United States can, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak may have arrived at the same conclusion their Iranian enemies have come to in the last three years: Barack Obama is too weak and indecisive to be taken seriously when he threatens Iran. That means the only alternative to sitting back and waiting patiently as the Iranians run out the diplomatic clock on a feckless Washington-led effort to restrain them, is for Israel to strike.

Clearly, the administration’s preference is for the Israelis to be sufficiently cowed by U.S. pressure into standing down. Obama and Panetta would like Netanyahu to believe the U.S. would cut off the Israelis the way the Eisenhower administration did in 1956 when it abandoned Israel during the Sinai Campaign. But, as Ignatius points out, an open breach with Israel during an election year would be political suicide for Obama.

So rather than take responsibility for dealing with a problem that threatens the peace of the world, once again the Obama administration is trying to lead from behind. Except this time it isn’t hiding behind France as it did in Libya but behind tiny Israel, who will face the risks of Iranian counter-attacks alone and under the threat of being cut off by its own ally. It is unlikely Israel can be convinced to back off by vague American promises of more negotiations or stepped up covert attacks. Neither plan offers much hope of success. That is why the Israelis may be on the verge of deciding to strike on their own.

Under these circumstances, Ignatius is right that Israel’s leaders probably feel they are better off on their own in this enterprise rather than being shackled by Obama. But with Iran once again vowing to destroy Israel, Netanyahu and Barak realize allowing Ayatollah Khamenei to have his finger on a nuclear trigger simply cannot be tolerated.

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Obama’s Favorite Foreign Leader

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl is a normally sober observer of foreign affairs so it’s a bit disappointing to see him writing today in defense of Turkey’s Islamic government. Diehl’s starting point was to debunk Rick Perry’s comment in last week’s debate in South Carolina in which the Texas governor claimed Turkey was run by “Islamic terrorists” and questioned its continuing presence in NATO. Of course, he’s right that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not quite the equivalent of Hamas or Hezbollah, but as Michael Rubin noted last week, it has became a major sponsor and enabler of terrorism. While Diehl makes the point that Turkey has been somewhat helpful to the U.S. on Libya and Syria, on the issues of Middle East peace and the threat from the Iranian nukes, it has been a disaster.

Which is why I think the most distressing aspect of Diehl’s defense of Turkey as a reliable American ally is the fact that he says its leader has become one of the few foreign leaders with whom Barack Obama has a strong relationship. Obama has, according to the Post, spent more time speaking on the phone with Erdogan than any other ally. Indeed, in a cover story interview with Time Magazine, Obama told a fawning Fareed Zakaria that Erdoğan was someone with whom he had become friends and forged “bonds of trust.” It speaks volumes about the deplorable state of American foreign policy that Erdogan is someone with whom Obama is most comfortable.

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The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl is a normally sober observer of foreign affairs so it’s a bit disappointing to see him writing today in defense of Turkey’s Islamic government. Diehl’s starting point was to debunk Rick Perry’s comment in last week’s debate in South Carolina in which the Texas governor claimed Turkey was run by “Islamic terrorists” and questioned its continuing presence in NATO. Of course, he’s right that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not quite the equivalent of Hamas or Hezbollah, but as Michael Rubin noted last week, it has became a major sponsor and enabler of terrorism. While Diehl makes the point that Turkey has been somewhat helpful to the U.S. on Libya and Syria, on the issues of Middle East peace and the threat from the Iranian nukes, it has been a disaster.

Which is why I think the most distressing aspect of Diehl’s defense of Turkey as a reliable American ally is the fact that he says its leader has become one of the few foreign leaders with whom Barack Obama has a strong relationship. Obama has, according to the Post, spent more time speaking on the phone with Erdogan than any other ally. Indeed, in a cover story interview with Time Magazine, Obama told a fawning Fareed Zakaria that Erdoğan was someone with whom he had become friends and forged “bonds of trust.” It speaks volumes about the deplorable state of American foreign policy that Erdogan is someone with whom Obama is most comfortable.

Diehl’s main point is that Islamists are the “new normal” in the Arab and Islamic worlds.  That may be true, but his optimism that groups like the Islamic parties that now control Egypt’s new parliament will turn out to be more like Turkey than Hamas or Iran seems not only naive but also underestimates the extent to which Erdogan has opposed American interests and values.

Under the tutelage of Obama’s buddy, Turkish democracy is in a free fall with journalists and opponents of the ruling party being jailed. Abroad, Turkey has not only abandoned its long standing alliance with fellow American friend Israel but has become the leading supporter of the Hamas terrorist group on the international stage. Just as bad is Erdoğan’s refusal to support the West on isolating Iran, providing Tehran with a reliable outlet for trade just at the time when the Europeans are out ahead of the U.S. on toughening sanctions.

Any president who considered the alliance with Israel or the need to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons as among our nation’s top foreign policy priorities would regard Erdoğan as being, at best, a thorn in America’s side and, at worst, a genuine threat to our interests as well as our democratic values. But not Barack Obama.

Obama has been open about his contempt and dislike for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli is a prickly customer, and it may be that Erdoğan is easier to like on a personal basis. But anyone wondering why relations with the Jewish state have become so tenuous in the last three years need only understand this is a White House where an Islamic quasi-authoritarian who backs Hamas is the president’s pal and the prime minister of Israel is his bête noire.

Turkey may not be (as Rick Perry stated), run by a terrorist, but it is a nation that has been transformed under Erdoğan from a faithful ally to a source of genuine concern on both the home and foreign fronts. If that is Barack Obama’s idea of a true friend, then what does that say about his vision of America or the world?

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Identifying Israel’s “Main Enemies”

The controversy ended almost as soon as it began. Yesterday, Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde told an audience that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told him a couple of weeks earlier the New York Times and Haaretz were Israel’s “main enemies” because “they set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world.” That comment, made during a private meeting with the journalist, set off a minor furor with many, including Linde, saying they thought it odd those two journalistic institutions would outrank Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran as the Jewish state’s main foes and that such a statement reflects Netanyahu’s Nixon-like paranoia about the press. However, the prime minister’s office immediately denied Netanyahu had said it, and Linde soon backtracked, telling Haaretz the words were merely his interpretation and not a direct quote.

Nevertheless, this non-story is a reminder of a great truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it would be absurd to actually rank the Times or Ha’aretz higher in the list of Israel’s foes than actual military and terrorist threats, biased media reports are a not inconsiderable problem for a beleaguered Jewish state. So whatever it is that Netanyahu actually said to Linde, his concern about a distorted vision of Israel’s policies being the lens through which most foreigners view his country is neither foolish nor paranoid.

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The controversy ended almost as soon as it began. Yesterday, Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde told an audience that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told him a couple of weeks earlier the New York Times and Haaretz were Israel’s “main enemies” because “they set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world.” That comment, made during a private meeting with the journalist, set off a minor furor with many, including Linde, saying they thought it odd those two journalistic institutions would outrank Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran as the Jewish state’s main foes and that such a statement reflects Netanyahu’s Nixon-like paranoia about the press. However, the prime minister’s office immediately denied Netanyahu had said it, and Linde soon backtracked, telling Haaretz the words were merely his interpretation and not a direct quote.

Nevertheless, this non-story is a reminder of a great truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it would be absurd to actually rank the Times or Ha’aretz higher in the list of Israel’s foes than actual military and terrorist threats, biased media reports are a not inconsiderable problem for a beleaguered Jewish state. So whatever it is that Netanyahu actually said to Linde, his concern about a distorted vision of Israel’s policies being the lens through which most foreigners view his country is neither foolish nor paranoid.

Newspapers that invariably frame the conflict as one in which Israel is an oppressive state that bullies the Palestinians, violates human rights and responds to alleged threats with disproportionate force do help undermine support for the Jewish state. Journalists who treat the dispute over the West Bank and Jerusalem as one in which only the Palestinians have rights while the Israelis merely have overblown demands for security similarly help create a diplomatic playing field in which Israel is always at a disadvantage. Even worse, those who rarely, if ever, place stories about the conflict in the context of a 100-year-old Arab and Muslim war to eradicate the Jewish presence in the country, or who make any effort to accurately portray Palestinian public opinion about peace or their unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state do their audience and Israel a disservice.

Haaretz reports the news based on its political bias against Netanyahu’s party and ideology. The Times news and opinion sections follow the same script just as slavishly. The influence of these two papers is not inconsiderable, though it must be admitted the bias of America’s newspaper of record has done little to harm the widespread and bi-partisan support for Israel in the United States. However, the misperceptions of Israel and the conflict the Times has helped perpetuate have had an impact on American Jewish opinion. The effort to depict Israel as the Goliath of the Middle East rather than the David is a blow to the self-esteem of some liberal Times readers and has given them a reason to distance themselves from Zionism.

As such, Netanyahu does well to worry about this problem and to seek to counter the influence of those who have a destructive impact on his country’s image. Though the prime minister shouldn’t give in to the temptation to demonize the international media, just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get him, or his country.

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In Obama They Trust? Israelis Ponder U.S. Intentions Toward Iran

Anyone listening to what’s being said about Iran by the White House and State Department lately could easily be convinced stopping the ayatollah’s nuclear program is one of Washington’s top priorities. But the public “disappointment” being expressed in Israel by senior members of the Netanyahu government tells a different story. While the New York Times was reporting a few days ago that American diplomats were going all out to persuade Japan, South Korea and even China to comply with American sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank as part of a prelude to a U.S.-led oil embargo of the Islamist state, the Israelis seem to be reading from a different playbook.

Though Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has registered support for Obama’s sanctions drive, his chief political deputy today contradicted him and denounced the administration’s cautious approach to pressuring Iran. And though the White House issued a statement summarizing a phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu on Thursday that emphasized U.S.-support for Israeli security, reports out of Israel about the talk lead one to believe the focus of the chat was something else entirely: an American demand that Israel promise not to attack Iran on its own.

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Anyone listening to what’s being said about Iran by the White House and State Department lately could easily be convinced stopping the ayatollah’s nuclear program is one of Washington’s top priorities. But the public “disappointment” being expressed in Israel by senior members of the Netanyahu government tells a different story. While the New York Times was reporting a few days ago that American diplomats were going all out to persuade Japan, South Korea and even China to comply with American sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank as part of a prelude to a U.S.-led oil embargo of the Islamist state, the Israelis seem to be reading from a different playbook.

Though Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has registered support for Obama’s sanctions drive, his chief political deputy today contradicted him and denounced the administration’s cautious approach to pressuring Iran. And though the White House issued a statement summarizing a phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu on Thursday that emphasized U.S.-support for Israeli security, reports out of Israel about the talk lead one to believe the focus of the chat was something else entirely: an American demand that Israel promise not to attack Iran on its own.

According to the Times, the U.S. is promising Asian nations which rely on Iranian oil that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations that share Israel’s fears about Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons will make up for any shortages they experience if the embargo goes forward. But the same piece pointed out that America’s Arab allies could only provide the additional oil for a limited time. That caveat about the potential pitfalls of an embargo has led China to declare its absolute opposition to any further sanctions on Iran.

Netanyahu sought to encourage the drive for tougher sanctions when he said this week that “for the first time, I see Iran wobble” in the face of the restrictions placed on its commerce. Yet Deputy Moshe Ya’alon gave a far less sanguine evaluation of the American effort when he said Saturday the government was worried about the president’s willingness to take the crucial next step in the process: an oil embargo. He openly speculated that Obama’s fears about the political impact of a rise in gas prices was the reason why the administration was opposed to the congressional vote on sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank as well as to the implementation of the measure.

That’s where the different spins about this week’s Obama-Netanyahu call phone come into play. The White House statement read like a Democratic Party campaign appeal to American Jews when it said:

The President reiterated his unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, and the President and the Prime Minister promised to stay in touch in the coming weeks on these and other issues of mutual concern.

As JTA’s Ron Kampeas says in an attempt at translation, what Obama was really saying to Netanyahu was:

I, Barack Obama, am serious about squeezing Iran hard, which is what you have been seeking.

I, Barack Obama, have your back.

But Israeli sources are now saying the purpose of the phone call was to warn Netanyahu not to attack Iran. This would not be the first time Israel has received such a message. Netanyahu has heard this before, but the decision to re-emphasize American opposition to a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at the same time many in Washington were expressing unhappiness about the way Iranian nuclear scientists have been turning up dead is causing some in Jerusalem to think the U.S. is more worried about an Israeli pre-emptive attack on the existential threat they face than the prospect of an Iranian nuke.

If the American desire to head off an Israeli attack was based on the idea the use of force now would unravel a growing international coalition behind an Iran oil embargo, then such warnings might be justified. But if the U.S. is merely talking about an embargo in order to convince voters Obama is serious about Iran but will never be followed up by action, then Israel’s misgivings are more than justified.

The question here is one of trust. If one believes Obama means business about Iran, then his seeming caution about enforcing the bank ban and desire for Israel to take no military action while an embargo is being planned is entirely sensible. But if, as seems to be the case with many Israelis, you have no faith the president will ever take any concrete action with regard to Iran, than all the diplomatic activity and warnings to Israel are merely attempts to keep things calm during an election year. Unfortunately, after three years of “engagement” with Iran and feckless diplomatic outreach, it’s hard to argue that the skeptics are wrong.

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Managing Conflict Easier Said Than Done

Yesterday, a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said his government had succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to give up trying to “solve” the conflict with the Palestinians and instead concentrate on just “managing” it. If Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon is right, that’s a major achievement, because Washington’s obsession with forcing Israel to make futile concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in negotiations or a final settlement of the conflict has caused unnecessary friction between the two nations.

There is some doubt about whether Ya’alon’s boast is true, but even if it is, it comes a little late. With Hamas being welcomed in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA and with Fatah leaders now saying they will formally annul their Oslo Accord commitments, Israel and the U.S. must worry about the West Bank becoming another Gaza. Having spent the first three years of his presidency doing his best to egg the Palestinians on to be even more intransigent, the downward spiral of their political culture has created even more problems for the United States to manage.

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Yesterday, a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said his government had succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to give up trying to “solve” the conflict with the Palestinians and instead concentrate on just “managing” it. If Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon is right, that’s a major achievement, because Washington’s obsession with forcing Israel to make futile concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in negotiations or a final settlement of the conflict has caused unnecessary friction between the two nations.

There is some doubt about whether Ya’alon’s boast is true, but even if it is, it comes a little late. With Hamas being welcomed in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA and with Fatah leaders now saying they will formally annul their Oslo Accord commitments, Israel and the U.S. must worry about the West Bank becoming another Gaza. Having spent the first three years of his presidency doing his best to egg the Palestinians on to be even more intransigent, the downward spiral of their political culture has created even more problems for the United States to manage.

The tough talk from the PA might be generously interpreted as mere posturing, but with Fatah now formally in bed with Hamas and with the PA’s pragmatic Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on borrowed time, there is good reason for the West to fear that Palestinian unity will mean that the supposedly “moderate” Fatah has joined Hamas rather than the other way around.

In his remarks, Ya’alon, a former top Israeli general, rightly noted that it has taken a while for Obama’s foreign policy team to understand that, contrary to the president’s May speech about the 1967 lines, the conflict is not about borders but about the Palestinian intent to destroy Israel. Ya’alon may be a bit optimistic about Obama’s Middle East learning curve as the administration has already drafted guidelines for the diplomatic quartet that seem infused with the same foolish focus on Israeli concessions. But the Hamas-Fatah pact is showing that the conflict may have gone to a different level, rendering the quartet’s peace push irrelevant. The embrace of Hamas shows that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has conclusively dropped even the pretense of seeking peace with Israel. What follows may not be so much a process to be managed as a powder keg that needs to be defused as Palestinians drift under the sway of the Islamist allies of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Israel Won’t “Bibiwash” NYTimes Bias

The unceasing drumbeat of Israel-bashing on the pages of the New York Times is not exactly a secret. The paper’s editorial pages along with columnists Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof have presented a solid front of opposition to the State of Israel with none of the paper’s other columnists presenting an alternative view. The avalanche of one-sided sniping at the Jewish state reached a crescendo this week with a column by Friedman in which he mimed anti-Semitic attacks on Israel’s backers by claiming that Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

But the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently not prepared to play along with the pretense that the Grey Lady practices objective journalism. As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, wrote to the Times to tell them the PM would not write a piece for the op-ed page because doing so would “Bibiwash” the paper. Though the Times invited Netanyahu to contribute a piece defending his policies, Dermer pointed out that 19 of 20 op-ed articles published since September were blasts aimed at Israel. After a litany of outrageous assaults on the country, there was no need for the prime minister to legitimize the Times with a token article.

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The unceasing drumbeat of Israel-bashing on the pages of the New York Times is not exactly a secret. The paper’s editorial pages along with columnists Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof have presented a solid front of opposition to the State of Israel with none of the paper’s other columnists presenting an alternative view. The avalanche of one-sided sniping at the Jewish state reached a crescendo this week with a column by Friedman in which he mimed anti-Semitic attacks on Israel’s backers by claiming that Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

But the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently not prepared to play along with the pretense that the Grey Lady practices objective journalism. As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, wrote to the Times to tell them the PM would not write a piece for the op-ed page because doing so would “Bibiwash” the paper. Though the Times invited Netanyahu to contribute a piece defending his policies, Dermer pointed out that 19 of 20 op-ed articles published since September were blasts aimed at Israel. After a litany of outrageous assaults on the country, there was no need for the prime minister to legitimize the Times with a token article.

As Dermer pointed out out, the only op-ed article published by the Times during this period that defended Israel was by Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist whose claim to fame is the fact that he lent his name to a libelous United Nations report attacking Israel that he has since recanted. Every other piece has been part of the one-sided campaign in which the Jewish state has been skewered from every possible angle including some outrageous and clearly false assertions a less biased paper would never have considered. That list included an absurd article claiming it was wrong for Israel to take pride in its fine record on gay rights and one by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in which he re-wrote history by claiming Arab armies invaded the newborn Israel in 1948 to protect Palestinian Arabs rather than to destroy the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s office is only just now noticing something the paper’s readers deduced long ago. The editors of the Times abandoned any semblance of balance on their opinion page many years ago. In terms of American domestic politics and foreign policy that means a preponderance of liberal views with only token and half-hearted opposition by the Times’s house “conservatives.” However, when it comes to Israel, it means a page in which Israel’s friends are unwelcome while its critics and enemies enjoy a year-round open season on the Jewish state. In the not-so-distant past, writers like A.M. Rosenthal and William Safire would balance the views of the editorial column and the paper’s left-wing columnists, but now there is no one on staff ready to do so.

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s koshering of the Times would do nothing but allow the paper to pretend to be fair. Though its doubtful anybody at the Times is likely to take this criticism to heart, by calling them out for their bias Dermer and his boss have performed a public service that should warm the hearts of many of the paper’s readers as well as those who have long since given up reading it.

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Thomas Friedman and the New Anti-Semitism-Part One

Though the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman invariably characterizes himself as a friend of Israel, his most recent column illustrates the slippery slope along which critics of the Jewish state invariably slide as they attempt to shout down those with whom they disagree.

In an effort to simultaneously bash Republican supporters of Israel as well as the Israeli government, his frustration with Israel’s enduring popularity has led him to engage in smears more typically associated with fringe intellectuals such as Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. It’s not just that Friedman disdains Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s belief in the U.S.-Israel alliance, but that in order to justify his contempt, he finds himself having to paint Israel as being intrinsically unworthy of any support.

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Though the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman invariably characterizes himself as a friend of Israel, his most recent column illustrates the slippery slope along which critics of the Jewish state invariably slide as they attempt to shout down those with whom they disagree.

In an effort to simultaneously bash Republican supporters of Israel as well as the Israeli government, his frustration with Israel’s enduring popularity has led him to engage in smears more typically associated with fringe intellectuals such as Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. It’s not just that Friedman disdains Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s belief in the U.S.-Israel alliance, but that in order to justify his contempt, he finds himself having to paint Israel as being intrinsically unworthy of any support.

First, Friedman is wrong that Newt Gingrich’s line about the Palestinians being an “invented people” means Israel wants to rule the West Bank indefinitely. Rather, the injection of some truth about the history of the conflict ought to highlight a fact that journalists like Friedman have done so much to ignore: the inextricable link between Palestinian nationalism and a belief in the destruction of Israel. The point that Gingrich and many others have tried to make is that unless and until the Palestinians reinvent their identity and political culture in such a fashion as to drop their desire to extinguish the Jewish state, peace is not possible.

Second, let’s address one of the primary slanders at the heart of his piece: that the standing ovations Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received last spring were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Rather, they were the result of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans–Jew and non-Jew alike–think of Israel as a friend and ally. They, and their representatives in Congress, believe the Jewish state’s security is, contrary to Friedman’s formulation, a vital U.S. interest in the Middle East. It is true, as Friedman says, the applause may not have been a personal endorsement for Netanyahu, but that’s because it was also a stiff rebuke to President Obama’s attempt to ambush the Israeli prior to his visit with his speech about the 1967 lines, whose purpose was to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.

Friedman goes on to embarrass himself by contrasting the reception Netanyahu received on Capitol Hill to the one he might get at a center of leftist academia such as the University of Wisconsin. There’s little doubt he would not be cheered there. But the same would be true of most American politicians or thinkers who deviated from leftist Orthodoxy. The notion that liberal campuses are more representative of opinion about Israel than Congress is laughable. It is the sort of whopper one has come to expect from the liberal chorus on the Times op-ed page and shows Netanyahu may have a better feel for what Americans think than Friedman.

My next post will have more about Friedman’s manipulation of the facts about Israel.

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Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

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The Ninth Step

President Obama has recently taken eight steps toward the right. As Peter noted yesterday, Romesh Ponnuru listed six: (1) the tax deal; (2) selecting Bill Daley as chief of staff; (3) absolving conservatives of murder in Tucson; (4) having Joe Biden project involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014; (5) reviewing burdensome federal regulations; (6) authorizing Hillary Clinton’s new line on human rights in China. Ira Stoll identified two more: (7) appointing the Democratic Leadership Council’s Bruce Reed as Biden’s chief of staff; (8) Clinton’s pressuring Arabs on democratic reform, in a manner reminiscent of the Bush administration.

Let’s add a ninth: opposition to a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.

Ponnuru argued that Obama’s six moves are merely a “tactical and temporary” move to the center — a description that might also describe the seventh and eighth. Let’s consider whether it applies to the ninth.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley repeatedly answered questions yesterday by saying that the UN was not the place for the issues to be addressed — a position that will require a U.S. veto of any proposed resolution, even if the Palestinians continue their efforts to refine the language, since the language is irrelevant if the UN is not the proper forum to begin with:

QUESTION: …why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t — that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all. Read More

President Obama has recently taken eight steps toward the right. As Peter noted yesterday, Romesh Ponnuru listed six: (1) the tax deal; (2) selecting Bill Daley as chief of staff; (3) absolving conservatives of murder in Tucson; (4) having Joe Biden project involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014; (5) reviewing burdensome federal regulations; (6) authorizing Hillary Clinton’s new line on human rights in China. Ira Stoll identified two more: (7) appointing the Democratic Leadership Council’s Bruce Reed as Biden’s chief of staff; (8) Clinton’s pressuring Arabs on democratic reform, in a manner reminiscent of the Bush administration.

Let’s add a ninth: opposition to a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.

Ponnuru argued that Obama’s six moves are merely a “tactical and temporary” move to the center — a description that might also describe the seventh and eighth. Let’s consider whether it applies to the ninth.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley repeatedly answered questions yesterday by saying that the UN was not the place for the issues to be addressed — a position that will require a U.S. veto of any proposed resolution, even if the Palestinians continue their efforts to refine the language, since the language is irrelevant if the UN is not the proper forum to begin with:

QUESTION: …why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t — that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all.

QUESTION: So it’s not the contents that you’re opposed to; it’s simply the idea of a resolution.

MR. CROWLEY: We do not think that the UN Security Council is the best place to address these issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask why? Because, I mean, the UN is where Israel was created, basically. Why is the UN not the place to deal with these issues?

MR. CROWLEY: These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.

Asked to specify a productive step forward, Crowley repeated the goal of a framework agreement produced by direct negotiations and said the administration was working on it:

QUESTION: But that’s been going on for the past two years.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: And if you’re talking about productive steps —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s been going on for longer than that if — (laughter)

QUESTION: Well, this Administration, it’s been going on for the last two years. And if you’re talking about productive steps, certainly that process hasn’t produced anything.

MR. CROWLEY: You’re leading to a kind of a glass half full, glass half empty kind of discussion.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that the glass doesn’t have any water in it at all. (Laughter)

There are two possible explanations for the administration’s position: (1) a tactical and temporary move to the center, by a shellacked president anxious to avoid a confrontation with Israel before the 2012 presidential election; (2) a realization that focusing on Israeli settlements, without comparable concessions from either Palestinians or Arab states, is a failed strategy — and a UN resolution is not going to put any water in the glass.

The Palestinians, with their two-year strategy of avoiding negotiations (even after Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech; even after the settlement moratorium; even after repeated U.S. attempts to drag them to the table), have driven the peace process into a ditch. Unwilling to recognize a Jewish state or make the concessions necessary to get a Palestinian one, they want others to act while they stand by drinking slurpees.

Whether because of politics or policy, or both, the administration seems to realize this.

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Time Magazine Takes Its Israel Hatred to a New Level

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

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Don’t Ignore the Politics of Mossad’s Iran Assessment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

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RE: Why Pollard’s Release Is Unlikely Right Now

Alana, one of the reasons you suggest for the improbability of Jonathan Pollard’s release is the public nature of the campaign to free him, since such a prisoner release would typically be done with arguments behind closed doors.

But arguably, a public debate is the only way in which a Pollard release would become proper, because public discussion is necessary before such a step occurs. The whole world is watching, so to speak.

In an editorial today entitled “Netanyahu’s Plea for Pollard, the New York Sun provides a useful addition to the public debate, focusing on a “magnificent dissent” by Judge Stephen Williams in the 1992 case in which the Court of Appeals rejected Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing:

It happens that we don’t think a life sentence is too long a punishment for conviction of secretly passing classified information to a foreign government, even, in serious cases, if conviction is for only one count, as it was in the case of Pollard. … But it also happens that the sentence meted out to Pollard was vastly disproportionate to sentences handed down against other spies, including some who spied not for a friend of America, which is what Pollard did, but for countries that could be expected to use the fruits of spying in actions against us, like the Soviet Union or communist China.

… [Judge Williams] was one of three judges who heard Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing. The two other judges on the circuit panel, Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sided against Pollard in a highly technical opinion. Judge Williams’s dissent accused the government of having broken both the spirit and, in one respect, even the letter of the binding agreement under which it had obtained Pollard’s guilty plea.

The Sun covers the arguments made by both sides in that case, and concludes that there was a miscarriage in the sentencing proceeding whose correction is long overdue after Pollard has served nearly 25 years. For those still seeking to make up their minds, the Sun’s review is worth reading.

Alana, one of the reasons you suggest for the improbability of Jonathan Pollard’s release is the public nature of the campaign to free him, since such a prisoner release would typically be done with arguments behind closed doors.

But arguably, a public debate is the only way in which a Pollard release would become proper, because public discussion is necessary before such a step occurs. The whole world is watching, so to speak.

In an editorial today entitled “Netanyahu’s Plea for Pollard, the New York Sun provides a useful addition to the public debate, focusing on a “magnificent dissent” by Judge Stephen Williams in the 1992 case in which the Court of Appeals rejected Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing:

It happens that we don’t think a life sentence is too long a punishment for conviction of secretly passing classified information to a foreign government, even, in serious cases, if conviction is for only one count, as it was in the case of Pollard. … But it also happens that the sentence meted out to Pollard was vastly disproportionate to sentences handed down against other spies, including some who spied not for a friend of America, which is what Pollard did, but for countries that could be expected to use the fruits of spying in actions against us, like the Soviet Union or communist China.

… [Judge Williams] was one of three judges who heard Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing. The two other judges on the circuit panel, Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sided against Pollard in a highly technical opinion. Judge Williams’s dissent accused the government of having broken both the spirit and, in one respect, even the letter of the binding agreement under which it had obtained Pollard’s guilty plea.

The Sun covers the arguments made by both sides in that case, and concludes that there was a miscarriage in the sentencing proceeding whose correction is long overdue after Pollard has served nearly 25 years. For those still seeking to make up their minds, the Sun’s review is worth reading.

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