Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 9/9/12: Obama, Israel and Iran Continue to Dance

From DG:

1) Si vis pacem, para bellum

"The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank."
- Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott

The Washington Post has an editorial, Bridging the U.S. Israeli gap on Iran, which concludes:
In the past week Mr. Netanyahu has hinted at how the U.S.-Israeli difference could be overcome: through a clear public statement by Mr. Obama of a willingness to take military action if Iran crosses certain “red lines” in its nuclear program. Israel has been seeking such a declaration for some time, but Mr. Obama has limited himself to saying that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a weapon and that “all options are on the table.”
Certainly there would be dangers to a more explicit presidential statement, including that the United States would start down a slippery slope toward war. But if Mr. Obama really is determined to take military action if Iran takes decisive steps toward producing a bomb, such as enriching uranium to bomb-grade levels or expelling inspectors, he would be wise to say so publicly. Doing so would improve relations with Mr. Netanyahu and deter unilateral Israeli action — and it might well convince Iran that the time has come to compromise.
The editors of the Washington Post are asking that President Obama explicitly state the American readiness to prevent a nuclear Iran. Part of the argument is to mollify Israel but more than that it's an argument that American clarity and resolve will more likely deter Iran than nebulous declarations.

But that's not the most incredible part of this editorial; the sentence immediately prior to those two paragraph is:
It also creates the bizarre spectacle of senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials focusing their time and attention on trying to prevent an Israeli attack rather than an Iranian bomb.
I've seen this sentiment expressed before; usually from pro-Israel commentators. From an activist's standpoint, the editorial position of the Washington Post is not "pro-Israel," but it recently has been fair when judging the Middle East. The fact that four years ago the Washington Post enthusiastically endorsed Barack Obama and a few months later deplored the election of Binyamin Netanyahu makes this rebuke of the President even more surprising and powerful.

2) Barack Obama, Israel and the Jewish Vote

Chaim Saban wrote a recent op-ed in the New York Times, The Truth about Obama and Israel:
AS an Israeli-American who cares deeply about the survival of Israel and the future of the Jewish people, I will be voting for President Obama in November. Here’s why.
Even though he could have done a better job highlighting his friendship for Israel, there’s no denying that by every tangible measure, his support for Israel’s security and well-being has been rock solid.
Mitt Romney claims Mr. Obama has “thrown allies like Israel under the bus,” but in fact the president has taken concrete steps to make Israel more secure — a commitment he has described as “not negotiable.”
Barry Rubin - also an Israeli American, but who traveled eastward rather than westward - has written a comprehensive rebuttal to arguments similar to Saban's. I won't reprint the whole thing, but there's one paragraph that's especially important:
An especially important reason why Obama’s administration hasn’t been far more hostile to Israel in practice is that the Arabs and Iran shafted his policy. Remember that Obama offered to support the Palestinians, pressure Israel, and accelerate talks if only the Arab states and Palestinian Authority showed some flexibility. They repeatedly rejected his efforts—refusing even to talk–giving him no opportunity or incentive to press Israel for concessions. Note too, though, that the repeated humiliations handed him by the Arabs never made him criticize them publicly, change his general line, or back Israel more enthusiastically.
On the positive side, Saban's op-ed is clearly pro-Israel and I commend the New York Times for its courage in publishing it. I wish it weren't so misguided, but given the paucity of pro-Israel op-eds in the New York Times, I welcome the paper's openness in publishing a column that conflicts with its usual editorial position.

Last week the Baltimore Sun published former Governor Bob Ehrlich's Can Jewish voters be sure of Obama's commitment to Israel? I wish Ehrlich had framed the argument differently. Clearly what bothers him is the attachment of American Jews to the Democratic Party, but support for Israel is an American issue, not strictly a Jewish one.

The bulk of the column leads up to the final three paragraphs:
Forty years later, a reflexively dovish president in the midst of a difficult re-election campaign may be presented with a similar decision. Prime Minister Netanyahu has no doubt how Mr. Romney would respond. But can the same be said for America's 44th president?
An Israeli military action against Iran would set off alarm bells around the world. At least publicly, most of America's allies would condemn the actions. And a newly empowered Muslim Brotherhood would spark widespread protests throughout a tense Middle East.
The man who regularly voted "present" while a member of the Illinois legislature would not have a similar option here — a disquieting notion for Jewish Democrats concerned about the latest threat to Israel's survival.
Perhaps President Obama, as the Washington Post suggested above, could forestall a nuclear Iran and prevent the scenario described by Ehrlich. But it will require a more forceful and clearer response than we've seen so far.

3) A house in Netivot

One of Barry Rubin's criticisms of President Obama's has been how it has coddled Hamas, especially after the Mavi Marmara incident. Two years ago, he wrote a column, West Says: We've Helped Poor Gazans! Hamas Says: You've Given Us Gaza, Now on to More Wars, Seizing the West Bank, and Wiping Out Israel:
Here is what President Barack H. Obama said after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
"We believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas."
Now compare this with what the leader of the regime ruling the Gaza Strip says in explaining his broad strategy. See if there is any possible intersection between reality and Obama's priority on mking the Gza Strip prosperous.
Zahhar explains the Gaza flotilla hoopla and subsequent wave of anti-Israel sentiment not as a way for getting more wheelchairs into Gaza but as the end of phase one of his plan, which in future intends to place a lot more people into wheelchairs in Gaza:
"If we could liberate the Negev now, we would continue [our military activity], but our capabilities dictate that after we got rid of the Israeli presence in Gaza, we must finish off the remnants of that occupation, and move on to the West Bank."
And indeed Hamas has been able to rebuild its arsenal. During 2012, Israel has been attacked by over 455 rockets from Gaza; the latest attack destroyed a house in Netivot.
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