Commentary Magazine


Topic: oil embargo

Is Obama Blaming Israel for Gas Prices?

The campaign of administration leaks aimed at undermining Israel’s position on Iran has been widely noted. But according to Robert Satloff, the respected head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the White House isn’t satisfied with blaming Israel for the chance that Americans might be killed in the event force is used against Iran. Satloff says the Israelis see President Obama as blaming them for rising oil prices as well.

In comments quoted in the WorldTribune.com:

Satloff, who met “virtually everybody in the Iran debate,” said the Israeli leadership also saw the administration as blaming Israel for the sharp rise in U.S. gasoline prices. He said Washington attributed the higher prices to “Israel’s posturing” on Iran. “They [the Israelis] think the Iranians should be held responsible for the higher gasoline prices,” Satloff said.

The possibility that Washington would seek to scapegoat Israel for higher oil prices is an ominous development. While there have been, as yet, no public statements to that effect, or, as is generally the case with this administration, front page features in the New York Times claiming this is what anonymous senior officials are thinking, Israeli may believe this is something they expect to happen. Perhaps by making their fears on this score public, they hope to head off what they believe is an obvious next step from an administration that is friendly to Israel in public but oozing with hostility off the record.
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The campaign of administration leaks aimed at undermining Israel’s position on Iran has been widely noted. But according to Robert Satloff, the respected head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the White House isn’t satisfied with blaming Israel for the chance that Americans might be killed in the event force is used against Iran. Satloff says the Israelis see President Obama as blaming them for rising oil prices as well.

In comments quoted in the WorldTribune.com:

Satloff, who met “virtually everybody in the Iran debate,” said the Israeli leadership also saw the administration as blaming Israel for the sharp rise in U.S. gasoline prices. He said Washington attributed the higher prices to “Israel’s posturing” on Iran. “They [the Israelis] think the Iranians should be held responsible for the higher gasoline prices,” Satloff said.

The possibility that Washington would seek to scapegoat Israel for higher oil prices is an ominous development. While there have been, as yet, no public statements to that effect, or, as is generally the case with this administration, front page features in the New York Times claiming this is what anonymous senior officials are thinking, Israeli may believe this is something they expect to happen. Perhaps by making their fears on this score public, they hope to head off what they believe is an obvious next step from an administration that is friendly to Israel in public but oozing with hostility off the record.

Rising gas prices are a direct threat to the president’s re-election and, as some administration officials made clear in a leaked story in the Times last week, they think Obama’s desire to sound tough on Iran in order to win votes in November is heightening tension with Tehran. As that leak made clear, the president has boxed himself in with his public declaration that he was not willing to “contain” a nuclear Iran. That means the U.S. and its European allies are going to have to make good on their threat of an oil embargo this summer, just when gas prices normally go up anyway. If Obama and the Euros blink on Iran and pass on the embargo, they will rightly be accused of appeasing the ayatollahs. In the event that they keep their word and choke off Iran’s oil export business, the consequent dislocation of petroleum supplies will cause a politically expensive hike in the price of gas.

The Israelis are right to complain that if anyone should be blamed, it is Iran. It should also be pointed out that if Obama hadn’t wasted much of his first three years in office trying to “engage” Iran rather than enforcing sanctions on the regime, he might not be in this bind now. Blame should also go to those countries that may well continue to buy Iranian oil, such as China, India and Obama’s special friend, Turkey.

But while U.S. officials may grouse about Israeli pressure to act on Iran and leak damaging stories about them to the press, any comments that could be traced back to the White House about Israel and oil prices would boomerang on the president. Scapegoating the Jews on oil is exactly the sort of strategic mistake rooted in the administration’s true sentiments that could have a highly negative impact on the voters in November.

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Will the EU Back Down on Iran?

For the past several months, it has been the European Union that has taken the lead on ratcheting up sanctions against Iran. While President Obama was still dithering about implementing measures that would effectively create an international embargo against Iranian oil, the EU laid out its plans to actually shut down Tehran’s one source of foreign capital. But lurking behind this admirable boldness has always been a troubling sense that underneath their tough talk was an ardent desire to engage the Iranians and make all the unpleasantness go away.

That concern must go back to the front burner today with the announcement that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has accepted an offer to meet with the Iranians to discuss some new proposals Tehran is putting on the table. While the talks don’t obligate the EU to back down on its threats and can be construed in one way as proof that sanctions have gotten the attention of the Islamist regime, there is also the very real chance that once the negotiations begin the dynamic of diplomacy will predominate and allow Iran to play for more time as their nuclear program progresses.

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For the past several months, it has been the European Union that has taken the lead on ratcheting up sanctions against Iran. While President Obama was still dithering about implementing measures that would effectively create an international embargo against Iranian oil, the EU laid out its plans to actually shut down Tehran’s one source of foreign capital. But lurking behind this admirable boldness has always been a troubling sense that underneath their tough talk was an ardent desire to engage the Iranians and make all the unpleasantness go away.

That concern must go back to the front burner today with the announcement that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has accepted an offer to meet with the Iranians to discuss some new proposals Tehran is putting on the table. While the talks don’t obligate the EU to back down on its threats and can be construed in one way as proof that sanctions have gotten the attention of the Islamist regime, there is also the very real chance that once the negotiations begin the dynamic of diplomacy will predominate and allow Iran to play for more time as their nuclear program progresses.

It should be understood that the only reason why the Europeans have been so forward on the Iran issue is they are scared stiff an Israeli attempt to forestall the nuclear threat will play havoc with their economies. That isn’t to say that leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy are not fully aware of Iran’s dangerous nuclear intentions or that they fail to understand that Tehran’s acquisition of such a weapon would not present a threat to European security. They understand this, yet absent pressure from Israel, it is doubtful the EU would have been as tough on Iran as it has been.

During the past several years, dating back to the Bush administration (which outsourced diplomacy on Iran to the French and the Germans), the Iranians have had only one objective in its nuclear talks with the West: using them as a way to distract the world from its ongoing progress towards a weapon. Though it can be argued that some good and no harm can come from just talking to the Iranians, there is no reason to believe they view negotiations as anything but an opportunity to detach the EU from the U.S. and Israel. The ayatollahs know the EU has every reason to accept an inadequate compromise on nuclear enrichment or some other measure as proof Iran has backed down and will allow this to serve as justification for standing down from their promise of what might prove to be a costly oil embargo.

Given President Obama’s own predilection for pointless talks with Iran as well as his own lack of enthusiasm for an oil embargo, Israel has good reason to fear that once talks with Iran get going they will have a life of their own. Though the Israelis have no way of preventing such talks, the EU must be reminded that should they fold on their heretofore tough stance on Iranian nukes, the Jewish state will not back down on its own resolution to prevent the Islamist regime from acquiring a genocidal capability. Moreover, if President Obama is as serious about stopping Iran as he wanted to appear to be while speaking at the AIPAC conference, he must speak out and remind both Iran and the EU that he, too, won’t stand for any compromise that leaves Tehran with a potential opportunity to create their own nuke.

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