Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Plans Won’t Soothe Israel’s Fears

As Seth wrote earlier today, Israeli distrust of President Obama’s intentions on Iran is the product of nearly four years of policies designed to create more distance between the two allies on this and other issues. But since the president wants to stop an Israeli attack on Iran (and worries that some pro-Israel voters will hold his inaction against him in November, the administration used its favorite media mouthpiece — the New York Timesto float a raft a proposals that are intended to calm Jerusalem and its overseas friends. But the problem with these ideas is that they are focused more on stopping Israel than Iran.

Today’s front-page story in the Times states that the administration is considering the following: Naval exercises in the Persian Gulf to intimidate the Iranians; efforts to clamp down on Iran’s still-booming sources of oil revenue despite the supposedly “crippling” sanctions belatedly imposed on the country by the West; more covert activities aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear facilities; the construction of a radar facility in Qatar and a clear statement by the president as to the circumstances under which the United States will use force to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The last point is the one the Israelis have been begging Washington for but it is also apparently the one that the president is least interested in carrying out.

As for the other ideas, they have all been tried and failed. Under these circumstances, can anyone wonder why the Israelis fear they are on their own and the Iranians are confident they can defy the United States?

As to the administration’s ideas for mollifying the Israelis, they are not terribly impressive. There’s nothing wrong with conducting Naval exercises in the Gulf. But unless President Obama can convince the ayatollahs that their belief he is too weak to challenge them is wrong, little good will come of such activities.

Obama administration rhetoric about toughening the sanctions is about as credible as politicians promising to cut the budget via eliminating waste and corruption. The sanctions have been undermined by the more than 10,000 exemptions handed out by the Treasury Department to businesses to maintain ties to Iran as well as the president’s pass given to China to keep importing Iranian oil. That’s not counting the various measures the Iranians have come up with to evade the sanctions via smuggling and financial sleight-of-hand. Nothing short of a full economic boycott and blockade of Iran is called for, but we all know that isn’t happening. So any further discussion of sanctions is merely a diversion intended to distract us from the fact that the current policy has failed.

As for more covert activities directed at Iran, I might be more impressed with the prospect if I didn’t read about it first on the front page of the New York Times along with the Iranians whose responsibility it is to stop the West’s efforts. For the same administration that illegally leaked information about cyber-warfare to the Times earlier this year to go back to the same newspaper to publicly threaten a new round of attacks demonstrates astonishing chutzpah as well as incompetence.

But far worse than that is the talk of a new radar system to be installed in Qatar that would serve, along with other facilities in Turkey and Israel, to create an arc of anti-missile coverage. As much as such a system would be useful to defend the region against Iranian attacks, it is also a sign that, contrary to the president’s pledge, the administration is contemplating “containment” of a nuclear Iran rather than preventing them from obtaining such a capability.

That this is being publicly mooted makes sense, since everything the administration has done is leading to the inevitable conclusion that it will not undertake any concrete action to stop Iran. Under the best circumstances, containment would greatly empower Iran and allow it to intimidate its rivals in the region and strengthen its allies such as Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Iran. But the notion of deterrence of a fanatical, anti-Semitic regime determined to eliminate the Jewish state is probably a fantasy and that is why Israel’s leaders are determined to act to prevent their acquiring nukes before it is too late.

President Obama might avoid such an eventuality if he were to make firm public promises about the use of force and state that he would do so before Iran’s program got close to completion rather than afterward. But that is something he seems most reluctant to do. With reassurances like these, the Israelis are being brutally reminded that they must depend on no one but themselves.

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