On Defense, Obama Tries to Improve U.S. –Israeli Relations

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Joel C. Rosenberg

last few weeks have provided a fascinating insight into U.S.-Israel relations
and how the leaders of both countries see the Iran nuclear threat. Monday’s Oval Office meeting was important,
but it needs to be put in context with recent statements by CIA Director Leon
Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Let me

  • If
    this was the first meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu,
    it would have been great. The President was warm and friendly. He reaffirmed the
    “special relationship” and “unbreakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel. He
    said he trusted the Prime Minister and appreciated the steps Mr. Netanyahu is
    taking towards peace and security. Netanyahu publicly invited Obama to come to
    Israel and meet there, and Obama smiled and said, “I’m ready.”

  • The
    problem is that this wasn’t their first meeting. It was their fifth, just the
    first to go well.
  • President
    Obama wasted the past 14 months. He has treated Netanyahu like he was the head
    of BP oil rather than the leader of our most faithful friend and ally in the
    epicenter. Thus, President Obama came into the Oval Office meeting yesterday on
    defense. Jewish support for him in the U.S. has plummeted over the past year as
    the White House and State Department have treated Israel with unprecedented
    hostility. Fewer than 1-in-10 Israelis believe President Obama is pro-Israel
    because of the administration’s long string of deeply unfriendly statements and
  • By sharp contrast, Congress has been impressively bipartisan in its strong support
    of Israel and in its criticism of the White House for being so antagonistic
    towards Israel generally and Netanyahu in particular.
  • The
    good news: President Obama and his team seem to have gotten the message and
    changed their tune. In public, at least, the administration is trying to repair
    the damage they have done and reaffirm the importance of strong and healthy
    U.S.-Israel relations.
  • One
    example of a step in the right direction: the President just signed tough new
    economic sanctions on Iran, which received huge bipartisan votes in Congress.
    This is good.
  • The
    challenge: these sanctions are too little, too late.
  • Moreover,
    behind the smiles of the two leaders, nothing decisive was said about how to
    stop Iran from getting the bomb. And time is running out.
  • CIA
    Director Leon Panetta said on June 27 that it would take Iran a year to
    convert the uranium they currently have to weapons grade, and another year to
    produce a deliverable bomb.
  • In remarks at the Aspen Institute last week, Admiral
    Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Panetta and
    said this was consistent with his own assessment that Iran could have the Bomb
    within one to three years. “The Israelis believe this is an existential threat,
    in its truest definition, and that has been very much on my mind, obviously,
    throughout this whole issue of Iran and its development of nuclear weapons,”
    said Mullen. “I believe strategically they [Iran’s government] continue to
    pursue it [nuclear weapons]. They’ve not complied with the NPT. They’ve not
    complied with the IAEA…They’ve been given every chance to do this and they have
    not, and I believe they will not comply with international norms here….I think
    it’s incredibly dangerous for them to achieve this capability, destabilizing in
    the region….It generates great potential for a nuclear arms race in the Middle
    East. The place is unstable enough. We don’t need that. At the same time, I
    believe a strike against Iran also will be, should something like that occur,
    incredibly destabilizing.”
  • During
    his Q&A session, Admiral Mullen indicated that the U.S. believes Iran has
    not yet made a final decision to build nuclear weapons, while the Israelis
    believe Iran has made that decision.
  • CIA
    Director Panetta says he believes the new round of economic sanctions imposed on
    Iran will cause pain, but will not force Iran to stop its development of nuclear
    weapons. “I would agree with that,” said Mullen. This is important news that is
    getting overlooked by the mainstream media.
  • So
    the question remains: if sanctions aren’t going to stop Iran from getting the
    Bomb, and Iran is dangerously close to building the Bomb, what is President
    Obama prepared to do next? Will he take military action. I don’t believe he
    will. Will the President support the Israelis taking military action? That
    remains to be seen.

Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times—best-selling author of seven
novels and nonfiction books about Israel, including
Epicenter and
Inside the Revolution. He served as an aide to Benjamin Netanyahu in
2000. This article was originally published at 
his blog.

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