Commentary Magazine


Lack of Trust in Obama Makes It Hard for Israel to Consult on Iran

Apologists for the Obama administration will spend the next year touting U.S.-Israel security cooperation in an effort to bolster the Democrat’s re-election chances. But a report in the Guardian this past weekend about the breakdown of communication between the two countries on the most important issue facing them undermines that talking point.

According to the Guardian, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both refused to reassure Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Israel would consult with the United States first before launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. Panetta, who did the Iranians a favor last week by pouring cold water on the idea of a U.S. strike on their nukes, wanted a guarantee from the Israelis that they would ask America’s permission before acting. But though there was no confirmation such an Israeli campaign is being planned, Panetta did not get his guarantee. The reason for this is so clear that even Jeffrey Goldberg, who has served as one of the president’s chief cheerleaders on the question of his pro-Israel bona fides, understands what is going on: the Israelis simply don’t trust Obama.

As even Goldberg noted in his most recent piece on the subject, the Obama-Sarkozy live microphone gaffe told us more about the splintering of the U.S.-Israel alliance than some thought. While Goldberg continues to insist those of us who have pointed out it is Israel Obama resents rather than just the prickly Netanyahu have it wrong, he admits blaming the problem on the Israeli doesn’t explain what is going on. The bottom line here is that after three years of Obama picking fights with the Jewish state that did nothing to enhance the chances of peace, nobody in Jerusalem thinks the president can be counted on to do the right thing on the life and death question of dealing with a nuclear Iran.

So rather than work to repair the relationship, Obama makes stupid remarks to the French and, according to the Guardian, has ordered U.S. intelligence to step up its surveillance of Israel.

It should be specified that it is obviously in the interests of Israel to allow little daylight between its policies and defense strategies and those of the United States. Israel has but one major power ally, and an open break between the two would be a disaster. But it is more than a little difficult for an administration that came into office determined to create more distance between the U.S. and Israel and which has jumped on every opportunity to widen that rift with pointless quarrels over settlements, Jerusalem and even petty insults such as Obama’s complaints about Netanyahu, to now start complaining about Israel’s refusal to confide in them.

The notion that Israel must always ask Washington for permission before acting to defend its people is not one Jerusalem has ever considered sacrosanct. Nor should it. The bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 took place without asking Ronald Reagan permission first. Israel has also undertaken offensives against Palestinian terror targets without prior consultation. But Iran is a horse of a different color. Israel’s leaders may ultimately be forced to decide that an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities is unavoidable given the existential threat that allowing the ayatollahs access to nukes poses. However, the consequences of initiating a conflict with Iran may well be felt by America as much as Israel. The potential for regional war involving Iran’s Hamas and Hezbollah allies and possible attacks on U.S. forces in the region make it vital that the United States not be taken off guard by an Israeli decision.

The problem lies not with Netanyahu’s unwillingness to consult as much as it does with Obama’s hostility and untrustworthiness. Though the president has continued to issue forth rhetoric deploring Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he has also acted in such a way as to undermine any Israeli faith that he takes the issue seriously. Three years of Obama’s ineffective diplomacy on the matter have merely allowed the Iranians to move closer to the moment when they can announce a successful nuclear test. Since Obama has shown himself reluctant even to enforce the tough sanctions that might give the Iranians a reason to step back from the brink, it is understandable that the Israelis have no confidence that he would, if push came to shove, use force to stop the Iranian bomb. Even more to the point, they may fear he would try to stop their last-ditch effort to spike the Iranian nukes or in some way sabotage it.

That Israel would even think about an attack on Iran without consulting first with America is tangible proof of just how much damage Barack Obama has done.

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