Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Israel relations

Kerry’s Folly: Friends Can Say No to Friends

The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

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The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

Today’s cease-fire fiasco in which an initiative for a halt to the fighting from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas demonstrated anew how irrelevant the man lauded by the United States as a peace partner has become in the current conflict. But the main focus of discussion in the last few days has been Kerry’s foolish decision to adopt the positions of Hamas’s Turkish and Qatari allies in putting forward a cease-fire proposal that effectively cut both Abbas and Egypt out of the process. Israel’s government was shocked at Kerry’s betrayal that would have granted Hamas terrorists an undeserved political victory.

But rather than be held accountable for Kerry’s blunder as well as his miscalculations during the course of his sponsorship of peace talks whose collapse led directly to the current round of violence, what we are hearing are complaints about Israel’s chutzpah in calling out the secretary for his mistakes. Some today are pointing out what they consider to be Israel’s foolishness in creating friction with its sole friend. Indeed, at a time when the safety of the Jewish state is directly related to the continued use of the Iron Dome system that was financed in large measure by the United States, and for which Israel will need more funding to keep it shooting down Hamas rockets, there is a sense that uppity Israelis are biting the hand that is feeding them.

There is a superficial logic to such criticism of the Israelis and anytime a foreign government and its press attack any American official. Yet to frame this issue as one of ingratitude on the part of Israelis—both for U.S. assistance and for Kerry’s efforts to broker peace—is to misperceive the problem. Israelis should treat U.S. officials with courtesy and to listen to their advice. Yet expecting them to compromise their security for the sake of good feelings isn’t merely unrealistic. It’s an act of hostility that undermines an alliance that is as much in America’s interest as it is Israel’s.

Such tension between these two close friends is nothing new. U.S. leaders have been pressuring Israel to make territorial withdrawals or “risks” for peace since the inception of the state. That pressure intensified after the Six-Day War when the U.S. switched from an interested onlooker in the conflict (few remember that the Israelis fought all of their wars up until the Yom Kippur War without U.S. arms or significant assistance) to an ally of the Jewish state. Arguments such as those of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan with Menachem Begin, George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker with Yitzhak Shamir, and Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama with Benjamin Netanyahu all raised the same hackles about Israel’s refusal to consistently knuckle under to American demands.

But all these debates revolve around a basic principle that, like it or not, American leaders have had to learn to respect: Israel is a sovereign nation and cannot be asked to sacrifice the lives of its citizens in order to gratify the demands or the ego of American presidents and secretaries of state. In the current case, that means seeking to prematurely force Israel to cease operations against Hamas rocket fire and terror infiltration tunnels or to grant the terrorists concessions is simply unacceptable.

Moreover, as Kerry’s about-face after the weekend in which he agreed that demilitarization of Gaza should be the goal of any negotiations illustrated, even the Obama administration understands that the American people do not support a policy of pressure on Israel. Indeed, anyone thinking that Obama and Kerry might try to squeeze Netanyahu to make concessions by holding up more funding for Iron Dome got a dose of reality in the past few days when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were competing with each other over who would give the Israelis the most additional Iron Dome money.

It can be argued that friends shouldn’t be rude to friends, although the disgust and anger that Kerry generated across the entire Israeli political spectrum, including many fierce critics of Netanyahu, renders the administration’s hurt feelings somewhat ridiculous. But friends have a right to tell a friend—even a generous one that supplies essential aid—that their requests are neither reasonable nor helpful. Israel is not a banana republic and has said no to the United States before this and will again. More to the point, so long as the requests coming from the administration remain as unreasonable and out of touch with the reality of the conflict as those adopted by Obama and Kerry have been, Netanyahu should be able to resist them in the full knowledge that most Americans both understand and support his position.

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Obama and Ceasefire: A Little History

As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues, we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

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As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues, we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

On November 21, 2012, Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that concluded the eight-day Operation “Pillar of Defense,” which Israel began after a day on which Hamas launched 100 rockets at Israel. President Obama made a phone call to Bibi Netanyahu that day. This is part of the White House “readout” of that phone call:

The President made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians….The President commended the Prime Minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the President recommended the Prime Minster do – while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself. The President said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza. [emphasis mine]

Well, that went well, didn’t it? Between the ceasefire in 2012 and the outbreak of hostilities in 2014, Hamas made or smuggled in thousands of new rockets and went even more hog-wild with the tunnels. And how did Hamas go hog-wild with the tunnels? With cement that the United States, among others, insisted Israel allow into Gaza for humanitarian reasons in January 2014. That’s not America’s fault, but it’s worth noting that the president made an explicit promise to “intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs,” and clearly did not follow up on that promise.

The last sentence of the phone-call readout from 2012 was this: “The President said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.” And indeed, in 2014, the United States did authorize $235 million over three years for Iron Dome. The administration deserves commendation for that, but Iron Dome money is a no-brainer—Iron Dome is effectively a real-world testing ground for American missile defenses, and would be cheap at twice the price.

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Kerry v. Israel: Why It Gets Personal

The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

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The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

After delivering demands to Israel that amounted to an American surrender to Hamas, in a speech delivered this morning Kerry said that “demilitarization” of Gaza was a necessary element of hopes for peace. He’s right about that, but after seeking to hamstring Israeli efforts to halt Hamas rocket fire and to eliminate the tunnel network they use to store their arsenal and to launch cross-border attacks on Israeli targets, the umbrage that administration figures are expressing about the reaction to the secretary’s behavior is unjustified.

The fact that it has become personal between Kerry and Israel does neither country any good and that is why even though the anger in the Jewish state at the secretary was universal, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., rightly sought to disassociate his government from any personal attacks on Kerry today. But as with previous tiffs in which the administration expressed anger about criticism of the secretary, the focus on defending Kerry’s honor or good intentions is beside the point. Though he continues to pose as the tireless worker for peace that is being unfairly targeted for his even-handed approach, it’s time to realize that Kerry actually deserves a not inconsiderable share of the blame for the situation.

Even if we are to credit Kerry, as Dermer suggests, for his good intentions, the secretary deserves every bit of the opprobrium that has been leveled at him by Israelis from the right to the left.

Kerry’s disastrous intervention in the current fighting demonstrated the utter and complete incoherence of the position that he has carved out for the United States. On the one hand, Kerry has prioritized the effort to create a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But by seeking to save Hamas by granting it concessions in the form of open borders rather than forcing the demilitarization that he belatedly endorsed, Kerry is making such a peace deal impossible.

The depth of the contradictions here are hard to comprehend. On the one hand, following President Obama’s lead, Kerry has praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas endlessly as a true partner for peace even though the PA chief has repeatedly turned down chances to negotiate seriously. But by seeking to place constraints on Israeli military actions directed at degrading Hamas’s capability to launch terror attacks, Kerry is actually undermining Abbas. His cease-fire proposal wasn’t so much an insult to Israel as it was to the PA. Though publicly condemning Israeli actions, it’s no secret that Abbas is hoping that the Jewish state will remove his on-again-off-again rival/partner in the Palestinian government from the scene. By endorsing the proposal for a cease-fire that came from Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey, Kerry stabbed Abbas in the back.

But the incompetence didn’t begin with one ill-considered piece of diplomatic ineptitude. It must be understood that nothing that is going on today—including the grievous casualty toll inside Gaza—would have happened had not Kerry single-handedly forced both Abbas and the Israelis into a negotiation that both knew would only lead to disaster. Throughout the nine months during which the secretary orchestrated a new round of peace talks between Israel and the PA, the administration was warned that the problem wasn’t just that the effort couldn’t succeed so long as the Palestinians were divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas. It was that once the failure occurred, it would provide a justification for a new round of violence in the same manner that past such efforts had done. Kerry not only ignored those warnings but raised the stakes by personally speaking about a third intifada happening if the two sides didn’t do as he bid. Those who pointed out that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy were denounced as insufficiently supportive of peace. But the reality is that Kerry not only set the stage for this new outbreak, he more or less gave Hamas a green light to go ahead and start shooting.

The only common threads in Kerry’s diplomatic endeavors have been his enormous self-regard and a clear animus for the Netanyahu government. Either of these foibles would be forgivable if Kerry were focused on actions that would advance a two-state solution. But by pushing for a settlement when Abbas was unable to comply and then disingenuously blaming his failure on Israel, Kerry hurt the PA and set back any chance for peace. Once Hamas escalated the current fighting, he again took his eye off the ball and focused entirely on pushing for a cease-fire that would enhance the Islamists’ prestige and marginalize the Palestinians that he had championed.

Israelis who are forced to seek refuge in bomb shelters from Hamas missiles or await terror attacks from Gaza tunnels may be forgiven for losing patience with Kerry’s self-righteous lectures about casualties and human rights. But the attention given the anger he has generated there ought not to divert us from his record of failure. On Iran, Syria, and Russia, Kerry has done little to advance U.S. interests or to protect human rights. But with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has done worse than that. Having set the region up for conflict, he is now doing everything possible to ensure that the violence will continue at some point in the future by allowing Hamas to survive and even claim victory. Seen from that perspective, his good intentions and the insults being thrown his way from Israelis are mere footnotes to a historic legacy of failure.

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As Rockets Fly, Administration Blasts Israel

Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

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Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and a special assistant to President Barack Obama, gave the keynote address at the Haaretz Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv yesterday. Yet rather than use the opportunity to focus on American support for Israel’s right to self-defense at a time when the very city he was speaking in was being targeted by Hamas rockets, Gordon centered his remarks on harsh criticism of the Israeli government and lavished praise on the Palestinian leader who had embraced unity with the people currently shooting at Tel Aviv and scores of other Israeli cities, towns, and villages.

Gordon’s thesis was familiar. The Obama administration believes that Israel must negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority because it cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state while continuing to rule over millions of Arabs in the West Bank. And he blames Israel for the failure to conclude such an agreement with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

That’s the position Secretary of State John Kerry adopted after the predictable collapse of his peace initiative in April and echoed by various administration officials since then. The U.S. preferred to blame Israel for this failure rather than recognize that Abbas was never truly interested in signing any agreement. Faith in Abbas’s commitment to negotiations was lost when he fled the talks to return to efforts to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence. Any remaining trust in his bona fides should have evaporated when he concluded a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas rather than agreeing to continue to talk to Israel. The administration compounded that error when it decided to continue to keep sending aid to the PA despite the presence of Hamas in its ranks, which U.S. law forbade.

But as egregious as those misjudgments were before this latest outbreak of violence, they were rendered even more absurd by the spectacle of an American official sticking to this line even as a Hamas rocket offensive rained down on the Jewish state.

Perhaps the president believes that timing is irrelevant when it comes to pressuring the Netanyahu government but if the U.S. goal is to persuade the Israeli people to make more concessions to the Palestinians, then yesterday’s speech was a disaster.

It bears repeating that Israel made three offers of statehood and independence to the Palestinians in 2000, 2001, and 2008 that would have given them control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem. The Palestinians, first under Yasir Arafat and then Abbas, turned them down each time. Abbas’s recent decision to flee the latest talks and his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn constitute a fourth “no” to peace. This is a fact that has caused most Israelis to give up on the process even though the overwhelming majority—including the supposedly intransigent Netanyahu—favor a two-state solution in theory and would be willing to make serious territorial concessions in exchange for an end to the conflict, as opposed to a truce.

But the rocket fire from Gaza provided more than an inconvenient background noise for Gordon’s speech. It was a reminder of what happens when Israel gives up territory to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon heeded the international calls for Israel to make concessions and to separate from the Palestinians and in 2005 he withdrew every Israeli settlement, soldier, and civilian from Gaza. But rather than use this as a steppingstone to comprehensive peace, the Palestinians used the retreat to turn Gaza into a giant missile-launching pad and terrorist base. Since Hamas’s 2007 coup when they seized control of the strip, Gaza has been an independent Palestinian state in all but name. As such, it is a standing argument against further such withdrawals in the West Bank that abuts Israel’s main population centers. No Israeli government will ever contemplate ceding security control of more territory unless it can be sure that it will not be used to replicate the Gaza experiment.

But instead of sending a strong message to the Palestinians that they must renounce violence and make peace, Gordon’s speech made clear that the U.S. has no intention of holding Abbas accountable for his embrace of Hamas. Gordon’s pointed dismissal of Netanyahu’s recent comments about the need for Israel to secure the Jordan River security line in light of the growing Islamist threat from the East in Iraq as well as Syria will also inspire no Israeli confidence in the judgment or the reliability of American promises.

As I wrote yesterday, the Obama administration bears a not inconsiderable degree of responsibility for the current mess. Kerry’s initiative was undertaken with complete disregard of the consequences of its likely failure. The secretary’s prediction of a third intifada in the wake of its collapse was a self-fulfilling prophecy that Israelis are now witnessing as they mourn the three teenagers who were murdered by Hamas terrorists and see their skies filled with rockets. The decision to treat the Fatah-Hamas pact as not being a threat to peace was similarly misguided. The idea that a weakling like Abbas could force Hamas to embrace peace wasn’t so much a mistake as a demonstration of the administration’s complete lack of understanding of the situation.

When a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians happens that will allow their leaders to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and end the conflict, they will find their neighbors willing to talk and to once again offer them sovereignty over part of the land they share with the Jews. But if Obama, Kerry, or Gordon think Israelis are likely to embrace Abbas or to start more withdrawals on the West Bank at a time when the Palestinians are using the only territory they control to wage war on them, they’re as arrogant as they are clueless.

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Pollard for Murderers? A Bad Deal

Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

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Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

As I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his imprisonment, Pollard’s case is a mixed bag for supporters of Israel. As much as his sentence was an injustice, he is no hero and did grave harm. Moreover, the prospect that someone who committed espionage in the belief that he was helping Israel would gain his release in exchange for the freedom of those who indiscriminately shed Jewish blood is more than an irony; it’s an outrage that even the spy should reject.

Having already released scores of Arab murderers, who have been subsequently honored and embraced by Abbas, there is little incentive for Netanyahu to keep letting them out if the Palestinians are not going to commit to peace talks whose purpose is an end to the conflict. If he is going to be blamed for the collapse of Kerry’s initiative no matter what he does, it would be a mistake to start making further concessions that will come back to haunt him later. The problem with injecting Pollard into peace talks is that it is the sort of American concession for which Israel will pay a disproportionate price with little prospect of receiving what it wants. That’s what happened the last time he offered to make territorial concessions in exchange for Pollard’s freedom. In the end, the Palestinians got the land, and Israel got neither Pollard nor peace.

If the Palestinians want something from Israel they should be prepared to pay for it by demonstrating their willingness to end the conflict and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In essence a trade for Pollard now would be a substitute for getting the Palestinians to make those assurances. However much they may want Pollard, making such a swap would be against the long-term prospects of both Israel’s security and peace.

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Kerry’s Diplomatic Double Standards

So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

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So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

The Obama administration’s heightened sensitivity to criticism doesn’t apply to the Palestinian Authority either. Kerry remains silent when his much-heralded partner in peace talks not only rejects American positions but also lionizes terrorists and murderers, hardly an attitude that advances U.S. interests in the region.

Bashing allies isn’t going to bring respect back to the United States on the world stage, nor is forcing allies to genuflect. Diplomatic temper tantrums aren’t going to imbue Kerry with an aura of competence that his policies and actions haven’t managed to achieve. Sometimes, tough words from friends are necessary, even with the moral inversion that currently underpins Obama and Kerry’s words and actions.

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Why Is Yaalon Not Playing By the Rules?

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is not playing by the rules. Members of the Israeli Cabinet are not supposed to be publicly telling the truth about American foreign-policy failures. But while it is to be expected that minor officials will mouth off on occasion about heavy-handed U.S. attempts to prop up the Palestinians or pressure the Jewish state into concessions, the man who is in charge of the Israeli defense establishment is supposed to understand that candor about the Obama administration interferes with his primary duties, which involve close security coordination with Washington.

Yaalon first pushed the envelope on U.S.-Israeli relations back in January when he had the bad manners to talk about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” obsession with Middle East peace that seemed divorced from the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians. But when he disparaged the U.S. as too “weak” to deal with Iran and that Israel was going to be forced to act on its own, that was too much for the Americans. A “senior American official” responded with what Haaretz termed a “blistering personal attack” in which Yaalon’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship was questioned.

What’s going on here? Why is Yaalon, previously known primarily as more of a defense intellectual than a firebrand, twisting the U.S. tiger’s tail in this manner? Is it part of a strategy cooked up by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aimed at showing the Americans that Israel won’t be intimidated by pressure tactics? Or does it have to do with Yaalon’s political ambitions? And do Yaalon’s doubts about America’s trustworthiness reflect mainstream Israeli thinking on the subject?

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is not playing by the rules. Members of the Israeli Cabinet are not supposed to be publicly telling the truth about American foreign-policy failures. But while it is to be expected that minor officials will mouth off on occasion about heavy-handed U.S. attempts to prop up the Palestinians or pressure the Jewish state into concessions, the man who is in charge of the Israeli defense establishment is supposed to understand that candor about the Obama administration interferes with his primary duties, which involve close security coordination with Washington.

Yaalon first pushed the envelope on U.S.-Israeli relations back in January when he had the bad manners to talk about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” obsession with Middle East peace that seemed divorced from the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians. But when he disparaged the U.S. as too “weak” to deal with Iran and that Israel was going to be forced to act on its own, that was too much for the Americans. A “senior American official” responded with what Haaretz termed a “blistering personal attack” in which Yaalon’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship was questioned.

What’s going on here? Why is Yaalon, previously known primarily as more of a defense intellectual than a firebrand, twisting the U.S. tiger’s tail in this manner? Is it part of a strategy cooked up by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aimed at showing the Americans that Israel won’t be intimidated by pressure tactics? Or does it have to do with Yaalon’s political ambitions? And do Yaalon’s doubts about America’s trustworthiness reflect mainstream Israeli thinking on the subject?

Those who assume the defense minister’s impolitic comments are part of a clever coordinated strategy in which Yaalon is playing bad cop to Netanyahu’s good cop with the Americans are probably wrong. Israeli politics is rarely that neat and tidy. Netanyahu has rightly come to the conclusion that no good will come from publicly challenging the U.S. on the peace process at the moment. It’s even more far-fetched to think the prime minister would have approved of a senior colleague’s decision to dissect the disastrous mistakes the U.S. has made in other conflicts such as the current crisis over Russian aggression against Ukraine, especially coming from the man who must work closely with the U.S. defense establishment. Yaalon was forced to walk back his personal attack on Kerry in January. It’s likely that he will need to do the same with his even more pointed blast at the Americans.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss Yaalon’s views as extreme. The defense minister is not alone in thinking that the Obama administration’s retreats in the Middle East and weakness in dealing with Russia have undermined Israel’s security. American failures in Syria and Ukraine undermine faith in America’s ability to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. The question is not whether Yaalon was right about doubts about the U.S. but whether this is something the defense minister should be saying in public rather than in private.

The answer to that question is obviously not. Though, as Yaalon rightly notes, U.S. security cooperation to Israel is mutually beneficial rather than a gift, it still ill behooves the top defense official of an American ally to behave in this manner.

This kind of display does strengthen Yaalon’s support among the Likud party faithful and other right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition. Were Netanyahu to step down or to decide not to run for reelection in 2017, it would make a lot of sense for Yaalon to be trying to shore up his right flank in a campaign for prime minister. But Yaalon is not likely to succeed Netanyahu. The prime minister is, after all, only one year older than his defense minister. Though Netanyahu is not that popular among a Likud membership that has grown even more right-wing in recent years, Yaalon is a typical former general whose political skills don’t match those of his boss. Nor is it likely that Netanyahu would split the party as Ariel Sharon did in 2005 leaving Yaalon with a chance to lead its rump.

Yaalon’s frustration with the U.S. is understandable. He may also be worried about whether the prime minister will buckle under American pressure. But he wouldn’t be the first former general to be outmaneuvered by Netanyahu. If he keeps popping off in this manner, he may discover that this kind of truth telling isn’t as politically useful as he thinks.

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An Alternative to the Two-State Solution

Talk of managing, as opposed to solving, the Israel-Palestinian dispute has become increasingly fashionable in these years of a faltering, and at times failed, peace process. For many commentators it had become a case of Israel having to decide not to decide, for now at least. However, with the onset of Secretary of State Kerry’s most recent round of negotiations, we have seen a concerted effort to revive hopes for an imminent resolution of the conflict around a two-state proposal. President Obama’s recent interview in Bloomberg has already drawn much comment. Friends of Israel have expressed fully warranted dismay at the president’s disingenuous attempts to frame Prime Minister Netanyahu as some kind of hardened rejectionist of the peace process as the president willfully ignored the many concessions for peace already sacrificed by Netanyahu. He spoke as if the settlement freezes, prisoner releases and countless hours of negotiating had never happened.

Of course, Netanyahu already embraced the concept of two states as soon as he took office, as outlined in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. However, Israel’s prime minister has also made quite clear that any genuine peace will have to rest on full Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This has been responded to with skepticism from much of the international community, particularly on the part of the Europeans. The Zionist left (or at least what remains of it) has also proven pretty cold to this demand, with even moderates from this camp such as Shlomo Avineri appearing unenthusiastic about the Jewish state demand.

However, in this month’s featured essay for Mosaic Yoav Sorek not only proposes an alternative strategy, and indeed attitude, for Israel, but a strategy that places at its core the assertion of the Jewish state and its most fundamental rights. In his essay Israel’s Big Mistake Sorek argues that the path of concession and accommodation pursued by Israel since the early 1990s has been a disastrous one, only weakening it and emboldening the demands of Israel’s enemies. Sorek makes a strong case for the acknowledgement of the fact that since the conflict has not ever been about territory, but rather about ending Israel’s existence, nothing short of a total acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East will be able to deliver real peace.

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Talk of managing, as opposed to solving, the Israel-Palestinian dispute has become increasingly fashionable in these years of a faltering, and at times failed, peace process. For many commentators it had become a case of Israel having to decide not to decide, for now at least. However, with the onset of Secretary of State Kerry’s most recent round of negotiations, we have seen a concerted effort to revive hopes for an imminent resolution of the conflict around a two-state proposal. President Obama’s recent interview in Bloomberg has already drawn much comment. Friends of Israel have expressed fully warranted dismay at the president’s disingenuous attempts to frame Prime Minister Netanyahu as some kind of hardened rejectionist of the peace process as the president willfully ignored the many concessions for peace already sacrificed by Netanyahu. He spoke as if the settlement freezes, prisoner releases and countless hours of negotiating had never happened.

Of course, Netanyahu already embraced the concept of two states as soon as he took office, as outlined in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. However, Israel’s prime minister has also made quite clear that any genuine peace will have to rest on full Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This has been responded to with skepticism from much of the international community, particularly on the part of the Europeans. The Zionist left (or at least what remains of it) has also proven pretty cold to this demand, with even moderates from this camp such as Shlomo Avineri appearing unenthusiastic about the Jewish state demand.

However, in this month’s featured essay for Mosaic Yoav Sorek not only proposes an alternative strategy, and indeed attitude, for Israel, but a strategy that places at its core the assertion of the Jewish state and its most fundamental rights. In his essay Israel’s Big Mistake Sorek argues that the path of concession and accommodation pursued by Israel since the early 1990s has been a disastrous one, only weakening it and emboldening the demands of Israel’s enemies. Sorek makes a strong case for the acknowledgement of the fact that since the conflict has not ever been about territory, but rather about ending Israel’s existence, nothing short of a total acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East will be able to deliver real peace.

Israel’s mistake has been to buy into the notion that it can purchase from the Arab world its right to exist by trading territory. It has pursued the land for peace equation on the belief that if it shrinks its territory and weakens itself strategically it can placate it enemies’ hostility. But as Sorek points out, logically the opposite is true. It is only by maintaining its strength, asserting its presence, and demanding to be recognized that Israel can have any chance of eventually compelling its neighbors to accept the reality of its existence, and in doing so fulfill the foundational vision of Zionism.

As far as concluding the long running dispute with the Palestinians is concerned, Sorek proposes that Israel might start by not seeking to appease and legitimize the most hard-line elements among the Palestinians. It was the great mistake of the Rabin government, the author argues, to recognize and elevate the PLO instead of continuing the policy of working to defeat Arafat’s terror organization. Instead, Sorek suggests that Israel should essentially take the initiative and simply assert its rights and authority over the entire territory in its control. Whether or not Israel is to find a way to simply fully integrate the Arab communities living throughout its territories, or whether they will ultimately see their future in reclaiming their former Jordanian citizenship, Sorek makes the claim that none of this will prove as difficult as the 20-year long shambles of attempting to establish a Palestinian state.

Obama makes the dishonest claim that he would like to be presented with some alternative to the two-state proposal. But that request is doubly disingenuous, because not only does the president clearly have no desire for an alternative plan, but he also knows full well that Netanyahu is cooperating in efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Yet, Netanyahu is also pursuing somewhat of a synthesis approach by insisting that territorial compromise by Israel must be matched by real Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state.

Israel’s prime minister may demand this acceptance, but it is a sign of how doubtful the Israelis are that it will come from the region as a whole that they continue to insist that they hold such strategically significant areas as the Jordan valley. As Sorek observes in his essay, Israelis have given up on the hope of ever being embraced by the wider Arab-Islamic world. TS Eliot once wrote of those dreaming up systems so utopian that no one in them would ever need be good. In this way talk of sophisticated early warning systems in the Jordan valley, symbolic deals on token numbers of refugees, land swaps and more, are all part of misguided efforts to negotiate a final status arrangement so watertight that it won’t matter if the Jewish state is still reviled by Palestinians and the wider region.

As Yoav Sorek argues, nothing short of full acceptance of the Jewish state will bring peace to Israel and end the conflict, pursuing that acceptance is the only viable way to bring about a real and lasting peace.

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No “Special Relationship” Bingo at AIPAC

In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

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In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

Obviously not: he didn’t utter them in his AIPAC speech. Sure, there were all sorts of emotive expressions of support for Israel. But “special relationship?” Kerry seems as reluctant to speak the words, as Mahmoud Abbas is loath to utter “Jewish state.”

I wonder whether even one of the 14,000 Israel supporters in the Washington Convention Center noticed the omission, in the flurry of sweet nothings floated by Kerry. But have no doubt: no words can substitute for “special relationship.” That’s why it stands at the very center of the U.S.-Israeli bingo card. Israelis know it, and you can be sure that John Kerry knows it too.

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Robert Malley and the Shift to Appeasement

Back in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president, one of the many signals he sent to Jewish groups to reassure them of his good will toward Israel and his foreign-policy bona fides was to sever ties with Robert Malley. Malley, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer, is best known for his stand blaming Israel rather than Yasir Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David peace summit. His position as an informal advisor to the Obama campaign was a major liability for a candidate desperate to reassure Jewish Democrats that he could be relied upon to maintain the alliance with Israel. But when it became known in May of 2008 that Malley had met with Hamas terrorists, the Obama campaign severed ties with Malley.

It turned out that those who worried that Malley’s presence in the Obama foreign-policy shop was a sign of future trouble with the Jewish state were right. Despite his campaign promises and the fact that he failed to give an inveterate Israel-basher like Malley a job in his administration, President Obama spent most of his first term picking fights with the State of Israel before a reelection-year charm offensive. But now well into his second term, the president is finally rewarding Malley for falling on his sword for him during his first campaign. This afternoon it was announced that Malley is heading back to the White House to serve as a senior director at the National Security Council where he will be tasked with managing relations between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies. While we are told the administration is making an effort to bolster its traditional ties to the region, Malley’s appointment sends a very different signal, especially to Israel.

At a time when Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region are worried that the U.S. has turned its back on them as part of the president’s misguided pursuit of détente with Iran, the president has called back to service one of the foremost defenders of appeasement of terror. Though Malley is merely one more member of a second-term team that is increasingly hostile to Israel, his joining the NSC removes any remaining doubt about where American foreign policy is heading.

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Back in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president, one of the many signals he sent to Jewish groups to reassure them of his good will toward Israel and his foreign-policy bona fides was to sever ties with Robert Malley. Malley, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer, is best known for his stand blaming Israel rather than Yasir Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David peace summit. His position as an informal advisor to the Obama campaign was a major liability for a candidate desperate to reassure Jewish Democrats that he could be relied upon to maintain the alliance with Israel. But when it became known in May of 2008 that Malley had met with Hamas terrorists, the Obama campaign severed ties with Malley.

It turned out that those who worried that Malley’s presence in the Obama foreign-policy shop was a sign of future trouble with the Jewish state were right. Despite his campaign promises and the fact that he failed to give an inveterate Israel-basher like Malley a job in his administration, President Obama spent most of his first term picking fights with the State of Israel before a reelection-year charm offensive. But now well into his second term, the president is finally rewarding Malley for falling on his sword for him during his first campaign. This afternoon it was announced that Malley is heading back to the White House to serve as a senior director at the National Security Council where he will be tasked with managing relations between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies. While we are told the administration is making an effort to bolster its traditional ties to the region, Malley’s appointment sends a very different signal, especially to Israel.

At a time when Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region are worried that the U.S. has turned its back on them as part of the president’s misguided pursuit of détente with Iran, the president has called back to service one of the foremost defenders of appeasement of terror. Though Malley is merely one more member of a second-term team that is increasingly hostile to Israel, his joining the NSC removes any remaining doubt about where American foreign policy is heading.

At the time he was working for the Obama campaign, his defenders, including a gaggle of high-ranking Clinton foreign-policy officials, denounced Malley’s critics for what they claimed were unfair personal attacks. But the problem with Malley was never so much about his motives or his father’s role as a supporter of the Egyptian Communist Party and the Nasser regime as it was his own beliefs and policies.

By claiming as he did in an infamous article in the New York Review of Books in August of 2001 that the Camp David summit’s failure was Israel’s fault rather than that of Arafat, Malley demonstrated extraordinary bias against the Jewish state as well as a willingness to revise recent history to fit his personal agenda. Malley absolved Arafat from blame for refusing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. In doing so he not only flatly contradicted the testimony of President Bill Clinton and other U.S. officials present, but his justification of Arafat’s indefensible behavior also served to rationalize the Palestinian terror offensive that followed their rejection of peace.

In the years since then, Malley has remained a virulent critic of Israel and an advocate for recognition and acceptance of the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza as well as engagement with Iran and other rejectionist states.

All this should have been enough to keep him out of any administration that professed friendship for Israel. But by putting him in charge of relations with the Gulf states, President Obama is also demonstrating that he is determined to continue a policy of downgrading relations with traditional allies in favor of better relations with Iran and other radicals. As much as Israel has cause for concern about the headlong rush to embrace Iran, the Saudis have just as much reason to worry, especially because of the administration’s failure to act in Syria, where Iran’s ally Bashar Assad appears to be winning his war to hold on to power. The Saudis are right to dismiss the president’s attempts to reassure them on Iran. Now that he has appointed a longtime advocate of embracing America’s foes, it’s not likely they will feel any better about U.S. policy.

The return to a position of influence of an Arafat apologist like Malley is one more sign of just how far the president has strayed from his campaign pledges on the Middle East. The U.S. drift toward appeasement of radical Islamists is no longer a matter of speculation but a fact. Any constraints on administration policies based in concern about alienating America’s allies are now a thing of the past.

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Kerry’s Motives Are Beside the Point

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad tend to treat all American advocacy for land-for-peace deals, concessions to the Palestinians, or opposition to settlements as prima facie evidence of hatred for Israel. Some of those who do take those positions are, in fact, hostile to Israel. Yet many of those who believe it is in Israel’s interest to divest itself of the West Bank do so in good faith. Like some Israelis, they believe the country must be saved from itself. When stands such as theirs are expressed in terms as if they’re unquestionably right and therefore should override the views of those elected by the Israeli people to run their own government, it is highly offensive. But it is not the same as being a supporter of boycotts of Israel or an opponent of the existence of the state.

What Kerry has done and said in the last six months provides ample of evidence for those who think he’s no friend to Israel. His evident indifference to the violence of Palestinian incitement and to the spectacle of terrorist murderers being freed by Israel at his behest being embraced as heroes by the Palestinian Authority was deeply offensive. The same could be said of his recent rationalization, if not endorsement, of those seeking to boycott Israel when he said such efforts would succeed if his peace treaty weren’t signed by the Israelis. After such statements, it’s clear that Kerry’s affection for Israel seems dependent on Israeli obedience to him rather than on the common values that bind the U.S. and the Jewish state.

But making Kerry’s personality or any implied animus on his part the issue does little to help Israel navigate this crisis.

Fortunately, Lieberman, like the prime minister, has understood that Israel’s government does better by keeping as close as it can to the Obama administration. That’s why they have apparently decided to make to the Palestinians what amounts to a fourth offer of an independent state that would include 90 percent of the West Bank and are even willing to accept a framework of principles that would allow the negotiations Kerry is sponsoring to continue beyond the original nine-month period originally envisioned. Netanyahu and Lieberman are, as I wrote earlier this week, clearly betting on a Palestinian rejection of their peace offer. Though this won’t convince Israel’s foes and critics to change their minds, Netanyahu and Lieberman are correct in believing that as long as the Obama administration and Kerry know that they weren’t the ones to say no, they will be able both to preserve Israel’s security and its alliance with the United States.

The success of this gambit depends not so much on the Palestinians playing their familiar rejectionist role in this drama but on Kerry’s psychological makeup. The hope is that, like Bill Clinton, who never forgave Yasir Arafat for rejecting peace at Camp David in 2000 thus denying him a Nobel Peace Prize, Kerry will have no choice but to feel the same after he fails. It is a matter of opinion whether Kerry is as good a friend of Israel as Lieberman says. But the odds that he will react rationally after the ultimate and inevitable failure of his mission won’t be hurt by Israel’s senior leaders behaving as if his motives are as untainted as they would like them to be.

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Sanctions Stall Doesn’t Signal AIPAC’s Fall

After amassing an impressive 58 senators from both parties to co-sponsor a bill calling for new sanctions on Iran in case the current negotiations end in failure, the legislation has stalled in the Senate. Alarmed by what it felt was a threat to its diplomacy with Iran, the administration and its backers launched an all-out attack on the measure, claiming its passage would so offend Tehran that it would end nuclear talks with the West and leave the United States no alternative but to go to war. Even worse, some of the president’s supporters claimed that the only reason so many legislators, including 16 Democrats, would back the bill was that they were acting, in the words of influential television comedian Jon Stewart, as senators “from the great state of Israel.” This not-so-subtle invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard in which a vast pro-Israel conspiracy manipulates a helpless Congress paid off by wealthy Jews to the detriment of American interests has become a chestnut of Washington policy debates, but one the administration’s cheerleaders haven’t hesitated to invoke.

All this has chilled a debate about passing more Iran sanctions that might be considered moot in any case since as long as Majority Leader Harry Reid is determined to keep the bill from coming to a vote, it has little chance of passage. But rather than discuss the administration’s scorched-earth campaign on the issue, the New York Times prefers to join with the administration in taking another shot at the arch-villain of the supporters of the conspiratorial view of U.S. foreign policy put forward in the infamous “Israel Lobby” thesis: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to the Times, the lull in the battle over sanctions is a sign that AIPAC is losing its touch on Capitol Hill. This is considered good news for the administration and critics of the pro-Israel lobby and the bipartisan community for which it speaks. But while AIPAC can’t be happy with the way it and other advocates of sanctions have been brushed back in this debate, reports of its decline are highly exaggerated. While the administration has won its point for the moment in stalling the bill, the idea that it has won the political war over Iran is, at best, premature.

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After amassing an impressive 58 senators from both parties to co-sponsor a bill calling for new sanctions on Iran in case the current negotiations end in failure, the legislation has stalled in the Senate. Alarmed by what it felt was a threat to its diplomacy with Iran, the administration and its backers launched an all-out attack on the measure, claiming its passage would so offend Tehran that it would end nuclear talks with the West and leave the United States no alternative but to go to war. Even worse, some of the president’s supporters claimed that the only reason so many legislators, including 16 Democrats, would back the bill was that they were acting, in the words of influential television comedian Jon Stewart, as senators “from the great state of Israel.” This not-so-subtle invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard in which a vast pro-Israel conspiracy manipulates a helpless Congress paid off by wealthy Jews to the detriment of American interests has become a chestnut of Washington policy debates, but one the administration’s cheerleaders haven’t hesitated to invoke.

All this has chilled a debate about passing more Iran sanctions that might be considered moot in any case since as long as Majority Leader Harry Reid is determined to keep the bill from coming to a vote, it has little chance of passage. But rather than discuss the administration’s scorched-earth campaign on the issue, the New York Times prefers to join with the administration in taking another shot at the arch-villain of the supporters of the conspiratorial view of U.S. foreign policy put forward in the infamous “Israel Lobby” thesis: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to the Times, the lull in the battle over sanctions is a sign that AIPAC is losing its touch on Capitol Hill. This is considered good news for the administration and critics of the pro-Israel lobby and the bipartisan community for which it speaks. But while AIPAC can’t be happy with the way it and other advocates of sanctions have been brushed back in this debate, reports of its decline are highly exaggerated. While the administration has won its point for the moment in stalling the bill, the idea that it has won the political war over Iran is, at best, premature.

The chief problem with the article is that its premise is based on the myth that AIPAC is a monolithic and unstoppable group that can pass any bill it likes. The article’s assertion that AIPAC has gotten its way on every public policy issue since its futile effort to stop the Reagan administration from selling AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981 is foolish. AIPAC rarely, if ever, directly challenges presidents and when it does it inevitably comes out on the short end, as in its confrontation with the George H.W. Bush administration over loan guarantees to Israel in 1991 when the elder President Bush depicted himself as “one, lonely, little guy” standing up to AIPAC. Written by White House correspondent Mark Landler, one of whose previous recent forays into foreign policy was a sycophantic paean to the virtues of Secretary of State John Kerry, today’s equally slanted piece simplifies the congressional debate on Iran—which has been driven as much, if not more, by longstanding Senate sanctions activists such as Senate Foreign Policy Committee chair Robert Menendez and his Republican counterpart Mark Kirk than outside lobbyists—into a one-on-one duel between Obama and AIPAC.

That suits the administration since it wishes to show itself as having bested AIPAC. But it dramatically distorts the truth about the way AIPAC operates and its aversion to involvement in partisan debates. The charge that the group is biased toward Republicans is bunk. The group and its large cadre of supporters throughout the nation are only interested in whether a member of Congress is a supporter of Israel and enthusiastically backs Democrats who fit that description and does the same for those in the GOP. Nor is it the American branch of the Likud, as some falsely assert and Landler implies in his misleading article. The group’s guiding principle is respect for Israeli democracy and when that means, as it did for much of the 1990s, backing a left-wing government that embraced Oslo, that stand was a source of frustration to AIPAC supporters sympathetic to the Israeli right. Its primary purpose is to encourage support for the alliance between the two countries and that goal is bound to disappoint partisans on both ends of the political spectrum.

It is precisely because AIPAC is not equipped for partisan battles that it’s invariably reluctant to directly challenge any president. That was true last year when it passed on the opportunity to oppose Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense despite his vocal support for Walt-Mearsheimer slurs, and it is true today when it has decided to tread lightly on the Iran sanctions issue rather than express open opposition to the president.

By smearing all those who want a measure that would actually strengthen his hand in negotiations with Iran as warmongers, the president has faced down AIPAC and the pro-sanctions bipartisan Senate majority. But if, as is likely, the administration’s Iran diplomacy yields no dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and its stockpile of enriched uranium, the president will find himself facing the same bipartisan majority demanding more sanctions and action on Iran led by Menendez, his own party’s foreign-policy point man.

In the meantime, when AIPAC supporters gather by the thousands next month in Washington, the message to the group from Congress will give the lie to the conceit of Landler’s piece. Liberals hoped that alternatives to the mainstream pro-Israel group, such as J Street, would equal or supersede the organization. But after more than five years the leftist alternative remains without influence in Congress or in an administration that has proved time and again that it knows it must reckon with AIPAC as the principal voice of pro-Israel opinion in this country. AIPAC’s power does not reside in a mythical ability to override the will of presidents but in the simple fact that support for the Jewish state transcends party politics as well as ethnic or religious lines.

It says something disturbing about this administration that it has been more solicitous of the sensibilities of the Islamist dictators of Iran in the past few months than those of Americans who care about Israel’s security. But anyone, including the White House correspondent of the Times, who expects an all-out war between the Obama administration and AIPAC in the coming months is misinterpreting both AIPAC’s purpose and the ability of the White House to sustain its dangerous push for détente with Tehran in the absence of any tangible progress toward ending the Iranian nuclear threat.

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Israelis Are Right Not to Trust Obama

Last March, President Obama visited Israel for the first time since taking office. There he gave several speeches that must be considered among the most pro-Zionist ever uttered by an American leader. He annoyed supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking Israelis to pressure their government to take risks for peace — the same risks, as it happened — that his predecessors had already tried with disastrous results. But the genuinely supportive tone of his remarks persuaded some observers  that despite a first term marred by almost continual fights with Jerusalem, the president might finally win over an Israeli public that had never warmed to him. But less than a year later after that long-delayed visit, it might as well have never have taken place, as far as the Israelis are concerned. A new Times of Israel poll published this week shows that an overwhelming majority do not trust Obama to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and a clear majority view him unfavorably.

This frustrates the president’s defenders who cite the strong security cooperation that has continued on his watch, the generous aid to Israel that continues to flow, to the Jewish state, as well as the fact that he retained the support of more than two-thirds of American Jewish voters in his reelection campaign. Obama’s apologists also say he should be trusted to do the right thing on Iran and be given a chance to let diplomacy work to end the nuclear threat. They insist the administration’s push to force the Jewish state to make more concessions to the Palestinians is in Israel’s interests.

Israelis, however, aren’t impressed by any of these arguments. They distrust him more now than they did before his visit. That should prompt Americans who claim to be friends of Israel to ask themselves what the Israelis know that they don’t.

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Last March, President Obama visited Israel for the first time since taking office. There he gave several speeches that must be considered among the most pro-Zionist ever uttered by an American leader. He annoyed supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking Israelis to pressure their government to take risks for peace — the same risks, as it happened — that his predecessors had already tried with disastrous results. But the genuinely supportive tone of his remarks persuaded some observers  that despite a first term marred by almost continual fights with Jerusalem, the president might finally win over an Israeli public that had never warmed to him. But less than a year later after that long-delayed visit, it might as well have never have taken place, as far as the Israelis are concerned. A new Times of Israel poll published this week shows that an overwhelming majority do not trust Obama to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and a clear majority view him unfavorably.

This frustrates the president’s defenders who cite the strong security cooperation that has continued on his watch, the generous aid to Israel that continues to flow, to the Jewish state, as well as the fact that he retained the support of more than two-thirds of American Jewish voters in his reelection campaign. Obama’s apologists also say he should be trusted to do the right thing on Iran and be given a chance to let diplomacy work to end the nuclear threat. They insist the administration’s push to force the Jewish state to make more concessions to the Palestinians is in Israel’s interests.

Israelis, however, aren’t impressed by any of these arguments. They distrust him more now than they did before his visit. That should prompt Americans who claim to be friends of Israel to ask themselves what the Israelis know that they don’t.

The reason for Obama’s low approval and trust ratings among Israelis is no mystery. He came into office in January 2009 determined to establish daylight between Israel and the United States and wasted no time in achieving that goal. The fights he picked with Netanyahu were largely intended to undermine the prime minister’s standing at home but only served to strengthen him among his countrymen. Netanyahu’s defiance of Obama’s demands was based on positions widely agreed upon by the majority of Israelis such as a refusal to divide Jerusalem. Most Israelis aren’t any more enamored of West Bank settlements than the president, most view American insistence on pushing Israel back to its 1967 borders as madness because, unlike Obama, they vividly recall the events of 2005. In that year the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza produced a hale of rockets fired on their towns and cities along the border which they now see as a clear warning of what would recur if the tragic experiment were repeated.

The president’s disastrous retreat on Syria—after promising that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line,” that would trigger an American response —in which he has effectively  conceded that there is nothing the U.S. is prepared to do to restrain an Assad regime backed by both Russia and Iran has also undermined Israeli trust in his judgment, not to mention his promises.

That skepticism is even greater on Iran. Much was made in the American media in 2012 and 2013 about the lack of support for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran among members of the country’s security establishment and the Israeli public. But that stance was based on a belief that the only way to deal with Iran was in concert with a resolute United States. There is little disagreement in Israel about the absolute necessity for the West to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program as well as to force it to give up its ballistic missile program and to end its support of terrorism. Thus, the U.S. decision to embrace an interim nuclear deal that does nothing to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure (a position reaffirmed today by Iran’s foreign minister) and loosens sanctions in a way that has led many in Europe to believe that the restrictions will soon be eliminated altogether, has rightly alarmed Israelis.

Though Obama has consistently pledged to stop Iran from getting a bomb, Israelis view the American embrace of diplomacy with the Islamist regime very differently from the president’s supporters in the United States. While many Americans accept the administration’s arguments that the only alternative to its engagement with Iran is war, Israelis understand that the talk emanating from Washington about détente with Tehran represents nothing short of a profound betrayal of Obama’s pledges.

The United States seems to be retreating from the Middle East, a position that frightens many Arabs as well as the Israelis. They see the drift toward the appeasement of Iran as a sign that this administration is prepared to accept a compromise with Tehran that will leave the nuclear threat in place. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to blame the Israelis for believing that Obama can’t be trusted. American friends of Israel—including those who voted for Obama—have good reason to take a long, hard look at the Israeli poll results and reconsider their longstanding unblinking trust in this president.  

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Yaalon’s Unwelcome Peace Process Truths

Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

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Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

Having already conceded that Yaalon was stupid to say such things within earshot of a reporter, the defense minister gets no sympathy here for the abuse he is taking today in Israel’s press as well as from parliamentary allies and foes. The Israeli government has to be frustrated with Kerry’s persistence in pushing for concessions from them, especially when they see no sign of moderation on the part of their Palestinian peace partners who will not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn nor renounce the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. But as damaging as pressure on Israel to accept the 1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem may be, so long as Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is prevented by the reality of his people’s political culture and the threat from Hamas and other opposition groups from ever signing a deal that would end the conflict, Netanyahu knows that the best policy is to avoid an overt conflict with the U.S.

That said, Yaalon’s reminder of the absurdity of Kerry’s quest does help clarify the situation for those naïve enough to believe the talks have some chance of success.

Yaalon’s assertion that the negotiations are not between Israel and the Palestinians but between the Jewish state and the U.S. is self-evident. The PA has repeatedly demonstrated that it won’t budge from uncompromising positions against realistic territorial swaps or security guarantees, much less the existential questions of refugees and two states for two peoples. All that has happened in the past year is that Israel has been prevailed upon to bribe the PA by releasing terrorist murderers for the privilege of sitting at a table again with Abbas.

Nor can there be any real argument with Yaalon’s assessment of Kerry’s behavior when he described the secretary’s crusade as “inexplicably obsessive and messianic.” Few in either Israel or the United States, even those who are most in favor of his efforts, thought he had much of a chance to start with and there’s been no evidence that the odds have improved. His crack that “all that can save us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace” makes no sense since the only way the secretary will get such an honor is if Abbas signs on the dotted line. But it probably also reflects what Abbas is thinking since his goal is to prevent an agreement without actually having to turn one down publicly.

Yaalon is also right to dismiss the security guarantees Kerry has offered Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the West Bank. The example of the Gaza withdrawal—which Yaalon opposed when he was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, a stand that led to his term being cut short by former prime minister Ariel Sharon—as well as the situation along the border with Lebanon illustrates what happens when Israel tries to entrust its security either to Palestinian good will or third parties.

But perhaps the most incisive of Yaalon’s controversial comments was his assertion that Abbas’s future was dependent on Israel’s remaining in the West Bank, not on its departure from the territories:

Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is alive and well thanks to us. The moment we leave Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) he is finished.

Without an Israeli security umbrella, Hamas or more radical Fatah factions would have deposed Abbas a long time ago. His administration over most of the West Bank is simply impossible without Israeli help. Pretending that this isn’t the case is one of the key fictions that form the foundation of Kerry’s conceit about giving Abbas sovereignty over the area and why such a deal or a unilateral Israeli retreat, as some are now suggesting, would repeat the Gaza fiasco.

Most Israelis would applaud any effort to separate the two peoples and desperately want an agreement that would end the conflict for all time rather than merely to pause it in order for the Palestinians to resume it later when they are in a more advantageous position. Though the minister shouldn’t have criticized Kerry publicly, until the secretary and those who are supporting his pressure on Israel and not on the Palestinians can answer Yaalon’s politically incorrect comments, the peace process is doomed. 

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What Should the U.S. Ask from Iran?

The Obama administration’s decision to sign a deal with Iran has brought the differences between the U.S. and Israel on the issue of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions out into the open. Much of the debate about the question has focused on the fears of the Israeli government and many Americans that an agreement that loosened sanctions while allowing Tehran to continue enriching uranium and while retaining its nuclear infrastructure will not halt Iran’s march to a weapon. Both countries have sought to minimize the argument by focusing on disagreements about negotiations or the proper timing and application of sanctions while still insisting that they share a common goal. But this may obscure a more fundamental disagreement about whether an Iran run by extremist clerics and still dedicated to spreading terror and achieving regional hegemony can be integrated into the international community.

That is the backdrop for the anger being expressed by the administration and its cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment at Israel’s criticisms of the Iran deal. As this analysis by Reuters explains, supporters of the administration’s policy believe the conditions being proposed by Israel about a final deal with Iran are intended to sabotage the diplomatic process. In this version of events, Reuters’ sources say Netanyahu’s attempt to get the West to force Iran not only to reduce its enrichment but also dismantle its nuclear plants, end its ballistic missile project, cease supporting terrorism and incitement against Israel, and commit to respecting human rights are “crazy maximalist demands.” In doing so, Netanyahu is seen as not only trying to derail the talks with Iran but also inciting Congress to forestall any effort to expand upon them to create a new détente between the ayatollah’s regime and the U.S. But rather than focusing solely on the administration’s frustration at Jerusalem’s efforts to slow down the administration’s rush to end the conflict, perhaps it might be a good time to ask what exactly the United States wants from Iran.

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The Obama administration’s decision to sign a deal with Iran has brought the differences between the U.S. and Israel on the issue of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions out into the open. Much of the debate about the question has focused on the fears of the Israeli government and many Americans that an agreement that loosened sanctions while allowing Tehran to continue enriching uranium and while retaining its nuclear infrastructure will not halt Iran’s march to a weapon. Both countries have sought to minimize the argument by focusing on disagreements about negotiations or the proper timing and application of sanctions while still insisting that they share a common goal. But this may obscure a more fundamental disagreement about whether an Iran run by extremist clerics and still dedicated to spreading terror and achieving regional hegemony can be integrated into the international community.

That is the backdrop for the anger being expressed by the administration and its cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment at Israel’s criticisms of the Iran deal. As this analysis by Reuters explains, supporters of the administration’s policy believe the conditions being proposed by Israel about a final deal with Iran are intended to sabotage the diplomatic process. In this version of events, Reuters’ sources say Netanyahu’s attempt to get the West to force Iran not only to reduce its enrichment but also dismantle its nuclear plants, end its ballistic missile project, cease supporting terrorism and incitement against Israel, and commit to respecting human rights are “crazy maximalist demands.” In doing so, Netanyahu is seen as not only trying to derail the talks with Iran but also inciting Congress to forestall any effort to expand upon them to create a new détente between the ayatollah’s regime and the U.S. But rather than focusing solely on the administration’s frustration at Jerusalem’s efforts to slow down the administration’s rush to end the conflict, perhaps it might be a good time to ask what exactly the United States wants from Iran.

Dating back to his first presidential campaign, President Obama has been clear about his desire to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. There has never been any deviation from that goal in the rhetoric of the administration. But he has also been consistent in his desire not so much to strip the ayatollahs of their nuclear toys but to create a dialogue and an end to decades of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. Obama’s desire for engagement with Iran was no secret during the 2008 campaign and was given a prominent mention in his first inaugural address. During his five years in office, Obama’s efforts to achieve engagement have been as fruitless as those of his predecessors. But the Geneva accord has given new life to the effort.

The desire for more than a nuclear deal with Iran is the only logical explanation for the hysteria emanating from the White House at the prospect of Congress passing another round of sanctions. Since the proposal being pushed by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate would do nothing more than strengthen Obama’s leverage in the talks with Iran, his threat of a veto and talk about opposing anything that would “break faith” with a regime that has never acted or negotiated in good faith seems bizarre. But if the president’s real object is not the narrow goal of ending the Iranian nuclear threat, it makes sense.

The same question applies to the anger expressed in Washington and in European capitals at Israel’s attempt to remind the West that uranium enrichment isn’t the only aspect of Iranian policy of concern.

First of all, it should be remembered that Netanyahu’s effort to get the West to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear project isn’t a new demand invented by Israel to stop the talks. It reflects President Obama’s explicit promises about the nuclear threat including this passage from his October 22, 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney:

So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

As the president rightly indicated at that time, anything short of that would pave the way for a bomb, especially given Iran’s history of promise-breaking and America’s experience of such deals with other scofflaws like North Korea.

Just as important, a tunnel vision-like focus on the nuclear issue that ignores Iran’s ballistic weapons program would be more than shortsighted. Iran may claim the goal of its missiles is a peaceful space program, but the Islamist regime is no more interested in space than it is in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. If anything, it would be “crazy” for the U.S. to ignore the missiles that could deliver potential Iranian weapons not only to Israel but also to Western targets.

Critics of Israel claim these are unrealistic demands, but that view reflects a defeatism about diplomacy that is unwarranted. With the military and economic leverage the U.S. possesses, there is no reason to think Iran can’t be compelled to give up its nukes or missiles.

That also applies to acknowledging  the fact that Iran is a state sponsor of terror as well as understanding that another Iranian goal is to extend its sphere of influence beyond its borders throughout the Middle East via allies like Bashar Assad, Hezbollah, and perhaps even Hamas. Nor should Iran’s demonization of Israel that Jerusalem has rightly termed “genocidal” be off the table. If Iran is really changing its stripes, a dubious assertion based on the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the country’s faux presidential election last summer, then surely it is not too much to ask that it change its tune about terror and end its incitement against Israel along with its nuclear project.

Rather than carping about Israel, these are exactly the questions that both the media and Congress should be asking about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran in the wake of the Geneva deal. Were Iran as moderate as the U.S. hopes, its nuclear program would not be so troubling. The choice with Iran is not one between war and peace. Instead, it is whether the U.S. is prepared to make its peace with an aggressive nuclear Iran or a peaceful nation that is not a threat to its Arab neighbors as well as to Israel. If the administration isn’t prepared to ask Iran to change, then the result of any nuclear deal isn’t likely to make the region or the United States safer. Even assuming the doubtful proposition that the current diplomatic effort will actually stop Iran’s weapons program, a nuclear deal that leaves the ayatollah’s missiles, terror, and hate in place is an open invitation to future conflict, not peace or détente.

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Obama Should Hope Israel Keeps Complaining

In the wake of the Obama administration’s embrace of a nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s message to Israel has been crystal clear: shut up. The Washington Post reported that President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he’d like him to tone down the strident criticism of an agreement that he has rightly characterized as a “historic mistake” that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and may well bring it closer to a bomb rather than preventing it from accomplishing that goal. But the messages from other sources have been a good deal less polite. Anonymous “senior administration officials” told Israeli reporters that the White House considers the Israeli government’s outrage at having its concerns ignored to be “weak” and dismissed the possibility that Congress would attempt to restrain the president’s rush toward a détente with Iran out of concern for the Jewish state’s safety. The administration’s cheering section in the press has been no less blunt about its disdain for Israel’s fear that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is being attempted.

Part of this stems from Obama’s hubris. He has always believed in the magic of his personality and appeal and from the start of his first term signaled that he wanted to improve relations with Iran while also demonstrating his belief that the U.S. and Israel had become too close under his predecessor. The impatience he is showing about Israel’s complaints is rooted in anger over the fact that Netanyahu apparently does not trust him, something he appears to consider an act of lèse-majesté. Whether or not the reports out of Kuwait today about the president hoping to visit Iran in 2014 are true, the White House considers Israeli doubts about the president’s vision of a new Middle East to be something of a personal slight.

But if Obama is genuinely interested in making his deal with Iran work rather than it being just one more example of how the ayatollahs have hoodwinked the West, he shouldn’t be discouraging Netanyahu from speaking up. If there is any real hope that this deal that tacitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium and leaves in place the infrastructure for making a bomb will actually succeed, it will stem from an Iranian belief that Israel’s rhetoric about using force are credible rather than empty threats. Having demonstrated that he has little interest in putting Tehran’s feet to the fire, there is nothing preventing Iran from reneging on even this weak deal other than the notion that if Obama is not proved right, Israel will strike.

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In the wake of the Obama administration’s embrace of a nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s message to Israel has been crystal clear: shut up. The Washington Post reported that President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he’d like him to tone down the strident criticism of an agreement that he has rightly characterized as a “historic mistake” that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and may well bring it closer to a bomb rather than preventing it from accomplishing that goal. But the messages from other sources have been a good deal less polite. Anonymous “senior administration officials” told Israeli reporters that the White House considers the Israeli government’s outrage at having its concerns ignored to be “weak” and dismissed the possibility that Congress would attempt to restrain the president’s rush toward a détente with Iran out of concern for the Jewish state’s safety. The administration’s cheering section in the press has been no less blunt about its disdain for Israel’s fear that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is being attempted.

Part of this stems from Obama’s hubris. He has always believed in the magic of his personality and appeal and from the start of his first term signaled that he wanted to improve relations with Iran while also demonstrating his belief that the U.S. and Israel had become too close under his predecessor. The impatience he is showing about Israel’s complaints is rooted in anger over the fact that Netanyahu apparently does not trust him, something he appears to consider an act of lèse-majesté. Whether or not the reports out of Kuwait today about the president hoping to visit Iran in 2014 are true, the White House considers Israeli doubts about the president’s vision of a new Middle East to be something of a personal slight.

But if Obama is genuinely interested in making his deal with Iran work rather than it being just one more example of how the ayatollahs have hoodwinked the West, he shouldn’t be discouraging Netanyahu from speaking up. If there is any real hope that this deal that tacitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium and leaves in place the infrastructure for making a bomb will actually succeed, it will stem from an Iranian belief that Israel’s rhetoric about using force are credible rather than empty threats. Having demonstrated that he has little interest in putting Tehran’s feet to the fire, there is nothing preventing Iran from reneging on even this weak deal other than the notion that if Obama is not proved right, Israel will strike.

The problem with the current deal is not just that it does nothing to roll back all the progress Iran has made toward a bomb in Obama’s five years in office and that it lengthens the all-important breakout time for them to convert their stockpile of fuel to weapons-grade material by only a few weeks at best. The real flaw here is that by beginning the process of unraveling the sanctions that the administration belatedly and reluctantly imposed on Iran the president may have sent a signal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that he needn’t worry any more about the United States. The eagerness with which Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have bought into the dubious notion that Iran is entering into a period of genuine reform even while the regime continues to fund terrorism, make mischief in Syria, and spew anti-Semitism may have convinced the Islamist regime that they are home free. Their record of contempt for the West and deceptive diplomacy lengthens the already long odds that Obama’s deal is merely another delaying action on the regime’s part.

But so long as Israel and Saudi Arabia are demonstrating that they are not cowed by Obama’s dictates, Khamenei and his underlings must consider the possibility that their prevarications will backfire. Barack Obama and John Kerry may seem easy marks for the ayatollahs, but while the Israelis and their unlikely Arab allies are still able to strike, Khamenei has to consider that not everyone is deceived by his latest gambit.

Of course, Israel is doing more than merely playing the bad cop to Obama’s foolish cop. Netanyahu is right to assert that Israel can and must defend its own security and that it won’t be placed in peril merely to assuage Obama’s delusions of diplomatic grandeur. But so long as he is not silent, the Iranians must know there might be a terrible price to pay for their lies. Rather than trying to shut the Israeli up, the president and his various minions should be praying that Netanyahu’s warnings are being heard loud and clear in Tehran.

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Special Relationships

Last week, John Kerry appeared with British foreign secretary William Hague in London, and they congratulated one another on concluding their nuclear deal with Iran. Kerry expressed American gratitude for Britain’s support. “We are determined to press forward,” he said, “and give further life to this very special relationship and to our common objectives.”

It was President John F. Kennedy who first extended the concept of a “special relationship” beyond Britain to include Israel. In December 1962, Kennedy met with Israel’s then-foreign minister, Golda Meir, in Palm Beach, Florida, and the American memorandum of conversation reported his assurance in these words: “The United States, the President said, has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to that which it has with Britain over a wide range of world affairs.”

The State Department disliked this. A few months earlier, the Near East and South Asia Bureau had put together a memo on U.S.-Israel relations. “Israel’s proposals for a special relationship with the U.S. would be self-defeating if executed,” it argued. “We consider it important not to give in to Israeli and domestic pressures for a special relationship in national security matters.” But Kennedy spoke the words, and even if their definition remained foggy, they provided some reassurance to Israel every time an American president or secretary of state uttered them.

Which is why it’s worth noting that John Kerry doesn’t utter them. To the best I can determine, in his present job, he hasn’t ever described the U.S.-Israel relationship as “special.” Susan Rice, while at the UN, did so on several occasions, and Senator Kerry did it when he ran for president back in 2004 and again to AIPAC in 2009. But as best as I can tell (and I would welcome contrary evidence), he hasn’t done it as secretary of state, and that stands in striking contrast to his repeated invocation of the “special relationship” with Britain. Read More

Last week, John Kerry appeared with British foreign secretary William Hague in London, and they congratulated one another on concluding their nuclear deal with Iran. Kerry expressed American gratitude for Britain’s support. “We are determined to press forward,” he said, “and give further life to this very special relationship and to our common objectives.”

It was President John F. Kennedy who first extended the concept of a “special relationship” beyond Britain to include Israel. In December 1962, Kennedy met with Israel’s then-foreign minister, Golda Meir, in Palm Beach, Florida, and the American memorandum of conversation reported his assurance in these words: “The United States, the President said, has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to that which it has with Britain over a wide range of world affairs.”

The State Department disliked this. A few months earlier, the Near East and South Asia Bureau had put together a memo on U.S.-Israel relations. “Israel’s proposals for a special relationship with the U.S. would be self-defeating if executed,” it argued. “We consider it important not to give in to Israeli and domestic pressures for a special relationship in national security matters.” But Kennedy spoke the words, and even if their definition remained foggy, they provided some reassurance to Israel every time an American president or secretary of state uttered them.

Which is why it’s worth noting that John Kerry doesn’t utter them. To the best I can determine, in his present job, he hasn’t ever described the U.S.-Israel relationship as “special.” Susan Rice, while at the UN, did so on several occasions, and Senator Kerry did it when he ran for president back in 2004 and again to AIPAC in 2009. But as best as I can tell (and I would welcome contrary evidence), he hasn’t done it as secretary of state, and that stands in striking contrast to his repeated invocation of the “special relationship” with Britain.

For example, last February he visited London and said this (Hague beaming at his side):

When you think of everything that binds the United States and Great Britain—our common values, our long shared history, our ties of family, in my case, personal and friendship—there is a reason why we call this a special relationship, or as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron wrote, really, a partnership of the heart. It is that.

In June, Kerry (again with Hague at his side) stressed the “special relationship,” which he declared to be “grounded in so much—our history, our values, our traditions. It is, without question, an essential, if not the essential relationship.”

And in September, when Britain’s parliament voted down a motion to join the U.S. in the use of force in Syria, Kerry rushed to declare the “special relationship” intact:

The relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom has often been described as special, essential. And it has been described thusly, quite simply, because it is. It was before a vote the other day in parliament, and it will be for long afterwards after that vote. Our bond, as William [Hague] has just said, is bigger than one vote; it’s bigger than one moment in history. It’s about values. It’s about rules of the road, rules by which human beings try to organize their societies and offer people maximum freedom and opportunity, respecting rights, and finding a balance in a very complicated world. And we have no better partner in that effort than Great Britain, and we are grateful for that.

Quite early, the Obama administration earned a reputation in British public opinion for showing insufficient respect for the “special relationship,” and Kerry may see his mission as repairing that impression. But then the Obama administration stands no higher in Israeli public opinion, and Kerry sees no need to do any work of repair (and a few things he has said have heaped insult on injury).

President Obama does refer to the “special relationship” with Israel, but coming from him, the phrase means a bit less than it once did. That’s because he’s upgraded Britain to something even higher. On the eve of Obama’s visit to Britain in May 2011, he and British prime minister David Cameron published a joint op-ed in the London Times that included this sentence: “Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship—for us and for the world.” (The headline: “Not Just Special, But An Essential Relationship.”) Suddenly, the word “essential” started cropping up in references to the relationship with Britain (see also two of the Kerry quotes above). “Essential” is now the new platinum card in relations with the United States, and Britain alone holds one. (That’s why having Britain on board the Iran deal was so important to the Obama administration, and it’s why Hague was assigned the role of setting Israel straight: “We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned.” How pleased he must have been to categorize Israel among the world’s “anybodies.”)

Still, while Obama may have promoted Britain, he didn’t demote Israel. And as John Kennedy made clear more than fifty years ago, the two belong in a league of their own. Just what makes a “special relationship”? It’s more than democracy—the world is full of democracies. It’s not “shared values,” since American values are widely shared around the world. What compels the United States openly to acknowledge two “special relationships” is that two foreign states embody old cultures to which the American public feels profoundly and uniquely indebted.

Given that debt, the U.S. government assumes the obligation to show a bit of respect and work a little harder to make its case, when its biggest-knows-best policies impinge on the interests of those two states. When they dissent, as Britain did over Syria and Israel now does over Iran, it’s their privilege to do so and still win American praise as “special” friends who are entitled to speak their minds freely. For an example of how it’s done, see the Kerry quote above, following the British balk on Syria. So far, there’s no equivalent for Israel over Iran.

The U.S. government’s recognition of a “special relationship” doesn’t create a fact, it acknowledges a debt felt deeply by the American people. John Kerry apparently doesn’t fully grasp that reality in regard to Israel. But then, little in his Mideast diplomacy suggests that reality constrains him anyway.

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Will Israel Strike Iran? Iraq is No Precedent

A week after the administration first starting spinning the notion, the idea that the P5+1 talks with Iran made genuine progress toward a nuclear agreement has become conventional wisdom among the chattering classes. Based on little more than atmospherics generated by the Iranian charm offensive, Tehran offered the West nothing new and there is little reason to believe they think they need to give up enriching uranium or shut down their nuclear plants that are bringing them closer to a weapon. If the Obama administration is determined to press ahead toward what will be, at best, an unsatisfactory deal that will, despite the president’s protestations that any accord would be verifiable, lead inevitably to Iranian deceptions and an eventual bomb, then that will leave Israel’s leaders with a terrible dilemma. Their choice would then be between accepting a policy that places their country under an existential threat or breaking with its sole superpower ally and attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities on their own.

To those who claim that Israel can’t or won’t defy the United States, the Council of Foreign Relations’ Uri Sadot answers, think again. In an article published today in Foreign Policy provocatively titled “Rogue State,” Sadot argues that not only is such an outcome thinkable, the precedents already exist for an Israeli decision to fly solo in the face of not only international consensus but American desires.

Given the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been rattling his rhetorical sabers in the direction of Iran for years, it’s hard to argue with Sadot’s conclusion. As late as just a week ago during an address to the Knesset, Netanyahu once again warned the world that Israel isn’t afraid to act alone if its security is endangered. Should Jerusalem ever be convinced that the U.S. was about to sell it down the river, Netanyahu might well decide to strike Iran. But Sadot is wrong when he claims, as he did in his article, that Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak or the 2007 strike on the nuclear facility that Syria was building tells us much about Israel would or could do against Iran. There are simply no comparisons in terms of size or scale to the challenge awaiting the Israel Defense Forces in Iran or the diplomatic obstacles to such a decision by Netanyahu.

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A week after the administration first starting spinning the notion, the idea that the P5+1 talks with Iran made genuine progress toward a nuclear agreement has become conventional wisdom among the chattering classes. Based on little more than atmospherics generated by the Iranian charm offensive, Tehran offered the West nothing new and there is little reason to believe they think they need to give up enriching uranium or shut down their nuclear plants that are bringing them closer to a weapon. If the Obama administration is determined to press ahead toward what will be, at best, an unsatisfactory deal that will, despite the president’s protestations that any accord would be verifiable, lead inevitably to Iranian deceptions and an eventual bomb, then that will leave Israel’s leaders with a terrible dilemma. Their choice would then be between accepting a policy that places their country under an existential threat or breaking with its sole superpower ally and attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities on their own.

To those who claim that Israel can’t or won’t defy the United States, the Council of Foreign Relations’ Uri Sadot answers, think again. In an article published today in Foreign Policy provocatively titled “Rogue State,” Sadot argues that not only is such an outcome thinkable, the precedents already exist for an Israeli decision to fly solo in the face of not only international consensus but American desires.

Given the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been rattling his rhetorical sabers in the direction of Iran for years, it’s hard to argue with Sadot’s conclusion. As late as just a week ago during an address to the Knesset, Netanyahu once again warned the world that Israel isn’t afraid to act alone if its security is endangered. Should Jerusalem ever be convinced that the U.S. was about to sell it down the river, Netanyahu might well decide to strike Iran. But Sadot is wrong when he claims, as he did in his article, that Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak or the 2007 strike on the nuclear facility that Syria was building tells us much about Israel would or could do against Iran. There are simply no comparisons in terms of size or scale to the challenge awaiting the Israel Defense Forces in Iran or the diplomatic obstacles to such a decision by Netanyahu.

In terms of the Israeli mindset about enemy governments possessing such weapons of mass destruction, Sadot is right to assert that there is little difference between the thinking of Menachem Begin in 1981 and that of Netanyahu today. All the psychobabble thrown around about Begin’s experience of the Holocaust and the influence of Netanyahu’s ideologue father Benzion is mere gloss to the fact that these two men, just like Ehud Olmert in 2007, understand that their primary responsibility is to guard the existence of the State of Israel. Given the stated positions of the Iranian leadership as to their desire to eliminate Israel as well as their sponsorship of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, no leader of any sovereign state could afford to take such threats lightly. At the very least, Iranian nuclear capability would destabilize the Middle East (a fact that makes Israel’s Arab neighbors, with the exception of Iranian ally Syria, just as anxious to prevent the ayatollahs from realizing their nuclear ambition).

But the idea that Iraq is a precedent for Iran as far as Israel is concerned is absurd. Iraq had one lone nuclear reactor. It was relatively defenseless and the Iraqis weren’t expecting an attack. The same applies to what happened in Syria in 2007. By contrast, the Iranians have multiple facilities spread throughout their country. Some are in hardened, mountainside bunkers that may be invulnerable to conventional bombs. All are heavily guarded and the Iranians have been on alert for an Israeli strike for years.

It is a matter of some debate as to whether Israel’s vaunted armed forces are even capable of doing significant damage to Iran’s nuclear plants or destroying its stockpile of enriched uranium. Some analysts have always believed that only the United States, with its air bases in the region and aircraft carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf, could do the job adequately. But even if we assume for the sake of argument that Israel can do it alone and that it could accomplish this task with air strikes alone rather than combining them with commando attacks, what would be required is a sustained campaign of strikes at multiple targets. At best this would strain Israel’s resources. That is especially true when you consider that Israel would also have to be prepared to engage Hezbollah’s terrorist enclave in southern Lebanon since most assume that Iran’s Shiite auxiliaries (who are also fighting for the ayatollahs in Syria) would attack Israel in support of Iran.

What is being discussed here is nothing short of an all-out war, not a surgical strike that could be executed without fear of the cost in terms of casualties or lost planes. While Netanyahu may not shrink from such a decision, his decision will be based on Israel’s current dilemma, not what happened in the past.

As to whether such a decision would endanger Israel’s alliance with the United States, Sadot might well be right that the Jewish state could ride out any turbulence that would result from an Iranian campaign. President Reagan’s affection for Israel overcame the animus toward the Jewish state’s actions expressed by Vice President George H.W. Bush and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. While the Obama administration may not be quite as sympathetic, if anything support for Israel throughout the country and in Congress is far greater today than 32 years ago.

But in 1981, the U.S. was not still conducting a war in the region as the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan. Nor, despite the tilt toward Iraq in its war with Iran, was the U.S. engaged in a diplomatic process with the Saddam Hussein regime as it is now with Tehran. The notion that Israel would attack the Iranians while the Americans are still talking to them strains credulity. Not even Begin would have done such a thing. Nor would Netanyahu deliberately offend President Obama in such a fashion. If Israel ever did attack Iran, it could only happen after the U.S. broke off negotiations with Iran or after Israel could allege that the Islamist regime had violated an agreement it had signed with the West.

“Rogue state” is a title that is more appropriate to a terrorist-sponsor tyranny like Iran than democratic Israel. But there’s little doubt that Israel would act to protect itself even if that required it to act alone. The Iraq and Syrian strikes are far from the only times in its history that the besieged Jewish state has had to ignore international opinion that is heavily influenced by anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel’s existence. But if it does act against Iran, the decision will be based on the far more complex dilemmas of the present day than anything that has happened in the past.

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Thanks to Obama, Iran Doesn’t Fear Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly today and drew attention to the obvious fraud that is the Iranian charm offensive. After a week in which the international community and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheered on by the mainstream media celebrated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate who offers a chance to end his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, Netanyahu tried to play the spoiler at the party. Yet while his arguments detailing the record of both Rouhani and the despotic regime he serves were unanswerable, his speech didn’t get much more applause than his much lampooned cartoon bomb “red line” speech got last year from the same podium. Nor is there much reason for the Iranians to believe his threats about Israel being prepared to launch a strike on its own to stop the nuclear threat. Last week’s decision by President Obama to reach out to Rouhani and to initiate yet another diplomatic process virtually ensures that Iran can laugh at Netanyahu’s vow to act alone if necessary.

Though Netanyahu and President Obama seemed to be on the same page on Iran when they met at the White House yesterday, there’s little doubt that Israel’s isolation on the issue is greater than it ever has been. The bottom line here is that as long as Obama is prepared to engage with the Iranians, no matter how transparent the falsity of Rouhani’s position or how unlikely new talks will be to produce any sort of nuclear deal, Israel is effectively disarmed. As I wrote yesterday, a new round of talks between the West and Iran is no more likely to succeed than all of the ones that preceded it. As Netanyahu said in his speech, Rouhani has bragged about his own role in Iran’s clever negotiating strategy that suckers the West into thinking they have a deal while Tehran wins more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. More such dead-end talks will enable Iran to continue to run out the clock until they can achieve their nuclear ambition.

But like his efforts to debunk the Rouhani-as-moderate theme, it’s not clear there is any reason for the ayatollahs to worry much about Netanyahu’s vows about never allowing a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction to go nuclear.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly today and drew attention to the obvious fraud that is the Iranian charm offensive. After a week in which the international community and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheered on by the mainstream media celebrated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate who offers a chance to end his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, Netanyahu tried to play the spoiler at the party. Yet while his arguments detailing the record of both Rouhani and the despotic regime he serves were unanswerable, his speech didn’t get much more applause than his much lampooned cartoon bomb “red line” speech got last year from the same podium. Nor is there much reason for the Iranians to believe his threats about Israel being prepared to launch a strike on its own to stop the nuclear threat. Last week’s decision by President Obama to reach out to Rouhani and to initiate yet another diplomatic process virtually ensures that Iran can laugh at Netanyahu’s vow to act alone if necessary.

Though Netanyahu and President Obama seemed to be on the same page on Iran when they met at the White House yesterday, there’s little doubt that Israel’s isolation on the issue is greater than it ever has been. The bottom line here is that as long as Obama is prepared to engage with the Iranians, no matter how transparent the falsity of Rouhani’s position or how unlikely new talks will be to produce any sort of nuclear deal, Israel is effectively disarmed. As I wrote yesterday, a new round of talks between the West and Iran is no more likely to succeed than all of the ones that preceded it. As Netanyahu said in his speech, Rouhani has bragged about his own role in Iran’s clever negotiating strategy that suckers the West into thinking they have a deal while Tehran wins more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. More such dead-end talks will enable Iran to continue to run out the clock until they can achieve their nuclear ambition.

But like his efforts to debunk the Rouhani-as-moderate theme, it’s not clear there is any reason for the ayatollahs to worry much about Netanyahu’s vows about never allowing a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction to go nuclear.

Netanyahu’s analysis of what Rouhani tried to do in New York was accurate. Though some credulous Western journalists have taken to speaking about him as if he is a latter-day Bobby Kennedy, his involvement in all of the Islamist regime’s outrages—including terrorism—during the last three decades is a matter of record. That some media outlets were even prepared to buy into the false story line that he had denounced the Holocaust was proof of how eager many Americans are to believe any lie so long as it absolves them of the obligation to do something about Iran.

That Rouhani lied on the UN podium last week about Iran’s nuclear program is not really in dispute. While experts differ as to how far away they are from nuclear capability, there is little dispute that the growing stockpiles of enriched uranium as well as their plutonium option is bringing Iran closer to the moment when they will have a bomb that will destabilize the region and threaten Israel’s existence.

But while America is talking with Iran, Israel cannot attack no matter what Netanyahu says, and he knows it. The prime minister has wisely sought to minimize conflict with President Obama but by now he has to understand that the president has no intention of confronting Iran and will always seek to avoid having to make good on his own promises to stop Tehran.

So what alternatives does Israel have at this point to waiting for Obama to come to his senses? Sadly, there are none that make any sense that I can think of.

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens ponders this question in his column today and I agree with his analysis of the Obama administration’s intentions. As he writes, Israelis who think Obama will ever strike Iran are “fooling themselves.” But I disagree when he says that what Israel must do in response to the president’s inaction involves “downgrading relations with Washington.”

It was one thing for Netanyahu’s predecessor to ignore American advice to accept a Syrian nuclear program back in 2007 and take it out in an air attack, an example Stephens rightly cites as a correct decision on the part of Ehud Olmert. But Iran’s nuclear program presents a far more difficult target. It cannot be neatly made to disappear with a single simple surgical strike. Eliminating this threat would require an air campaign that would present enormous logistical and military problems that would strain the resources of the United States, let alone those of Israel. But even if Israel was capable of eliminating the Iranian threat on its own, doing so while the United States is engaged in negotiations with Tehran simply isn’t going to happen.

Israel can and should say no to the United States when its security is at stake. Nor should it, as Stephens says, worry much about gaining international approval. That is never going to happen because of factors that are rooted more in anti-Semitism than any disapproval of Israeli policies.

Yet as frustrating as America’s dalliance with Iran may be, cutting itself loose from its alliance with the United States isn’t an option for Israel any more than ridiculous proposals being floated elsewhere for Jerusalem to upgrade its ties with China in the hope of creating some positive leverage over Washington. American support for the Jewish state is embedded in this country’s political DNA and is more proof of American exceptionalism. It cannot be duplicated anywhere else on the globe.

Stephens is right when he says the current situation leaves Israel reliant on Iranian hard-liners to sabotage any nuclear deal. That may not be much of a strategy, but it may prove true since it is unlikely that even so-called moderates like Rouhani have any intention of giving up Iran’s nuclear program.

But until the moment when the U.S. administration wakes up to the Rouhani ruse, Israel has little choice but to stand by and wait and worry. So long as they’ve got Obama swallowing Rouhani’s bait, the Iranians have little to fear from Israel. That’s bad news for Netanyahu and Israel. But it is just as sobering for Americans who realize that despite Obama’s tough rhetoric about Iran, what the administration is doing is bringing us closer to the day when Tehran will go nuclear.

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Iran Danger Is Delay, Not Deal

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today and reportedly sought to reassure him that the Iranian charm offensive wasn’t working. Despite the way the administration welcomed the alleged moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and its determined efforts to initiate some form of dialogue with Tehran—Rouhani refused to meet or shake hands with the president in New York last week but deigned to accept a phone call from Obama before he left New York—the president is trying to convince Netanyahu that he isn’t budging from his pledge that Iran won’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and he won’t be fooled by Iran’s negotiating strategies. Despite expressing a desire for accelerated talks with the Iranians, the White House and the State Department are also trying to calm down Israelis and others who rightly see the way much of the mainstream media swoon for Rouhani as indicative of a desire to appease Tehran.

But the problem here isn’t just the obsequious manner with which the administration has pursued Iran but the cost of the diplomatic process they are trying to reboot. Iran’s intransigence on the nuclear issue—openly expressed by Rouhani—may well make a deal impossible. Iran has had many such offers in the past decade, including some that were highly favorable to the Islamist regime that would have enabled them to go on enriching uranium and to keep up the pretense that this activity was aimed at peaceful uses of atomic energy and always turned them down in the end. It is also possible that a principled and tough-minded American negotiating strategy would eventually expose the Rouhani initiative as a fraud.

But by going down the garden path with Iran again, President Obama is both buying time and lending much-needed credibility to an Islamic regime that deserves none. In doing so, he will make it even more likely that the Iranians will be able to reach their nuclear goal and is undermining support for any future action that would hold them accountable for their actions. Even if the talks fail, by falling prey to the Rouhani gambit, the president has already handed Iran a crucial victory.

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President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today and reportedly sought to reassure him that the Iranian charm offensive wasn’t working. Despite the way the administration welcomed the alleged moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and its determined efforts to initiate some form of dialogue with Tehran—Rouhani refused to meet or shake hands with the president in New York last week but deigned to accept a phone call from Obama before he left New York—the president is trying to convince Netanyahu that he isn’t budging from his pledge that Iran won’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and he won’t be fooled by Iran’s negotiating strategies. Despite expressing a desire for accelerated talks with the Iranians, the White House and the State Department are also trying to calm down Israelis and others who rightly see the way much of the mainstream media swoon for Rouhani as indicative of a desire to appease Tehran.

But the problem here isn’t just the obsequious manner with which the administration has pursued Iran but the cost of the diplomatic process they are trying to reboot. Iran’s intransigence on the nuclear issue—openly expressed by Rouhani—may well make a deal impossible. Iran has had many such offers in the past decade, including some that were highly favorable to the Islamist regime that would have enabled them to go on enriching uranium and to keep up the pretense that this activity was aimed at peaceful uses of atomic energy and always turned them down in the end. It is also possible that a principled and tough-minded American negotiating strategy would eventually expose the Rouhani initiative as a fraud.

But by going down the garden path with Iran again, President Obama is both buying time and lending much-needed credibility to an Islamic regime that deserves none. In doing so, he will make it even more likely that the Iranians will be able to reach their nuclear goal and is undermining support for any future action that would hold them accountable for their actions. Even if the talks fail, by falling prey to the Rouhani gambit, the president has already handed Iran a crucial victory.

It is entirely plausible to argue, as Aaron David Miller does in Foreign Policy today, that it would be very difficult if not impossible for President Obama to get away with an accord with Iran that would enable the Iranians to continue on their nuclear path. After the Syria fiasco where his indecisiveness led him to hand a victory to Russia and its ally Bashar Assad, the president can’t afford to “play the fool” on Iran. He has staked his credibility on the issue. Given his domestic political problems and the growing signs that he is becoming a lame duck, Obama would also be foolish to pick another fight with Israel and its supporters. Moreover, even with the press and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheering the idea of backing away from confrontation with Iran, as Miller notes, “the mullahs aren’t going to charm anyone for very long, let alone transform public attitudes in Israel or America without significant and tangible deliverables.”

So what’s wrong with making nice with Rouhani and giving diplomacy another try? Plenty.

It should first be understood what Iran is seeking to accomplish. Their primary goal is to separate the U.S. from Europe on the nuclear issue. The Europeans have always been more eager to compromise with Iran than the U.S., and if they can weaken international support for the economic sanctions that were belatedly implemented by President Obama, they will do so. They also want to drive a wedge between Obama and the Israelis.

Equally important is that after repeatedly demonstrating their unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, the Iranians’ charm offensive looks like it will gain them more precious time to get closer to their nuclear goal. The Iranians are past masters at drawing out diplomatic proceedings and one should expect that the talks that Obama and Kerry say must be “swift” would undoubtedly drag on for many months and perhaps longer than that, with no guarantee of a successful outcome. The president is already prepared to wait until mid-October for an Iranian response to his outreach. That will be followed by more delays that will lead us into 2014 and beyond.

Then there is also the damage the willingness to buy into Rouhani’s faux moderation does to the Western consensus about eventually holding Iran accountable. His defenders argue that by giving diplomacy more chances, he will strengthen his ability to increase sanctions or even use force once the initiative is seen to have failed. But in the world of Barack Obama, diplomacy never really fails even if that is the only rational conclusion to be drawn from events. Each diplomatic failure will lead to another try that will also fail with the only result being that more time will be wasted, just as the president wasted his first five years in office on tactics that played into Tehran’s hands. Moreover, having allowed Rouhani to get away with playing the moderate even when it is obvious that this is a ruse, the president feeds the perception that Iran is the victim of Western pressure rather than a sponsor of terrorism that is seeking to expand the reach of its tyrannical regime.

So even if an administration desperate for a compromise solution is unlikely to get one from Rouhani, the charm offensive is still working very nicely to achieve Iranian goals. The danger here is not so much a deal but the delays that will bring us that much closer to an Iranian bomb. 

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