Commentary Magazine


The Bunker Busters and the Measure of Support for Israel

Today, Eli Lake reported in the Daily Beast that President Obama “has secretly authorized significant new aid to the Israeli military that includes the sale of 55 deep-penetrating bombs known as bunker busters.” The story, to be published in Newsweek on Monday, indicates that Obama released the bombs to Israel in 2009 after the Bush administration had at first denied the request and then delayed it.

This decision, taken at a time when the president was also applying brutal pressure on Israel to make concessions on territory and Jerusalem to the Palestinians, sums up the contradictions in the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.

The strategic alliance between the United States and Israel transcends the differences between the two countries over the peace process and even the attempts of Obama to tilt the diplomatic playing field toward the Palestinians as he has repeatedly done during his time in office.

Obama has done more to undermine the Jewish claim on Jerusalem than any of his predecessors. He has also set out to distance the American position on the peace process from that of Israel, a foolish misjudgment that encouraged Palestinian intransigence and led to the diplomatic debacle on display this week at the United Nations. But to note this, as one must, doesn’t mean Obama is, as some of his most extreme critics assert, an open foe of the Jewish state.

Like many of his predecessors, Obama has hoped to encourage Israel to take risks for peace by measures that would enhance its sense of security. Such initiatives have a dual purpose in that they are intended to make Israel more defensible while also creating an atmosphere in which the leaders of the Jewish state will be more inclined to make concessions. Their impact on security is both necessary and laudable. Their effect on Israeli diplomacy is usually dubious.

The bunker busters gave Israel more confidence in its ability to deal with Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist targets. They might also be used against Iranian nuclear facilities, a fact that might lead some to think Obama had given a green light to an Israeli attack on Iran. If true, it would be highly ironic, because Obama was otherwise engaged in a foolish attempt to “engage” Iran in 2009. But it is highly unlikely this is the case. Given the U.S. command of the skies over the region through which Israeli planes would have to travel to get to Iran, the president probably believes he can still exercise a veto on such a strike.

The United States is Israel’s sole ally. Even if items such as the bunker busters may come with a hefty diplomatic price tag, it is not difficult to understand why the Israel Defense Forces think they are worth it.

Yet, let us be in no doubt as to the reason why news about the bunker buster sale was leaked now, more than two years after the fact, according to Lake’s reporting. At a time when Obama’s support in the Jewish community is dropping in part because of his abusive treatment of Netanyahu, it is vital he try to prove he is as good a friend to Israel as any of his predecessors.

Obama’s Democratic surrogates will, no doubt, cite this sale as well as other things the president has done to help bolster Israeli security. But judging Obama’s attitude toward Israel solely on the basis of whether or not he is willing to maintain normal security cooperation is to measure it by an extremely low standard.

We know Obama is not, or at least is not yet, another Jimmy Carter, a man who is actively seeking to undermine Israel’s existence, as stories such as this one about the bunker busters prove. But that doesn’t guarantee him Jewish support. His problem is rather than being compared to Carter, we can instead judge against the standard set by his fellow Democrat Bill Clinton or Bush, men who were ardent friends of Israel. By that measure, Obama still falls short, a salient fact that may lose him some Jewish votes next year on this issue.

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