Obama and Netanyahu

Jonathan Tobin:

But not only was Obama not interested in any such gesture, he was not prepared to tell him this to his face. This snub may stem from the open dislike the two men have for each other, but as I wrote earlier this week, this is about more than personalities. The message from Washington was clear: Israel has no leverage over Obama on this issue even during the presidential campaign and will have even less in a second term.
Netanyahu has been accused of trying to play politics with Obama during the last months of the presidential campaign or of favoring Mitt Romney. But whatever Netanyahu thinks privately, it should be understood that his concern transcends any misgivings about Obama’s penchant for picking fights with Israel during the past four years. If he really thought Romney might win, he would be showing more, not less patience with Obama since presumably Israel would only have a few months to wait before getting a different answer from a more sympathetic White House.

It’s worth reading Tobin’s post in full, as well as his earlier post (linked in the quoted segment above).

As Tobin makes clear, the media’s “clash of personalities” framing of the issue has helped Obama by obscuring the conflict of interests between his administration and Israel. Obama will do nothing substantial to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons and no longer cares who knows it. Perhaps if he is reelected he will begin to discuss “containing” Iran, and eventually will push for a regional nuclear treaty that will be designed to get Israel to disarm in exchange for Iranian promises. Good luck with that. In any event it seems unlikely that Obama, who was unwilling publicly to oppose the mullahs when it would have been easy to do and might have brought them to heel, will begin to act resolutely against them once they acquire nukes.

The key insight from Tobin’s post may be in the last sentence of the second paragraph above. If Netanyahu were confident of a Romney victory it would make little sense for him to engage the obstreperous Obama now. The fact that Netanyahu decided to run the risk suggests that he thinks Obama is likely to be reelected or that little time remains for an effective strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. If this reasoning is correct Israel may attack soon, perhaps shortly after the election if Obama is reelected.

The current situation is more than a little like the period before the Six Day War. There are bellicose enemies, feckless allies, an existential threat to the Jews, fruitless diplomacy under the clock, much FUD about a possible world or regional war as a result of an Israeli attack, a difficult tactical problem, and a coalition government in Israel. Some things that are different are the degree of direct US involvement in the Middle East, Islamism, the absence of the USSR, and probably a weaker political consensus within Israeli society. We will know soon enough what Netanyahu and his cabinet decide to do.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them…

UPDATE: See also this post on Israeli politics (via Seth Mandel).

UPDATE 2: Richard Fernandez puts Obama’s bungling into perspective in the context of long-term US policy mistakes:

But it is worse than 1979; the current alliance puts America in the back of the bus as expressed in the tagline “leading from behind.” In that slogan is described a self-imposed inferiority, a chronic submission to political enterprises that would, if closely inspected, be dubious to say the least. It is a policy based on weakness, born of a desire to spend as little as possible abroad, the better to focus on domestic welfare and permanent political majorities at home. At worst, it is a bargain which trades appeasement abroad for authoritarianism at home; it a policy of shameless opportunism masquerading as high minded leadership. And therefore they are proud of it.
But rottenness cannot not long be concealed. The State Department now spends its time apologizing for the First Amendment before a raging mob instead of defending itself. The Justice Department expends its energies hunting down cheapass video producers while American embassies — and German ones — burn. But the most obvious inversion is the spectacle of a President who avoids speaking to the head of the only fully democratic country in the region — Israel — even as the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt prepares to come to the United States in triumph. Your eyes don’t lie. It really is the ‘bad guys’ the Administration has to mollify; it really is the tyrants that they have to appease because it is to those bad guys that they they have entrusted the execution of their plans.
The West should re-recognize that only possible lasting alliances in the Middle East are between societies which broadly share the same values. Just as a lasting alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union was impossible, so too is a permanent peace impossible with nations whose ideology frankly declares as its goal the desire to conquer and enslave the world. Principle should return to foreign policy, not for sentimental reasons, but for practical ones.

17 thoughts on “Obama and Netanyahu”

  1. Just as many on the left can’t fathom how an American black could vote for a Republican, this observer on the right can’t fathom how an American Jew could vote for a Democrat. I clearly have much to learn.

  2. From Fernanez (link above), a rather pithy “It is snapshot of incompetence in pursuit of an imbecility.” reference to the Obama/Hillary C. policy of empathy and appeasement in the mid-east.

    Jason, I have lately believed that it would be impossible for a patriot to vote for the Dem. ticket.

  3. Jonathan I like to read screenwriter Robert Avrech’s blog Seraphic Secret – and he said that the Orthodox Jews aren’t following Obama – as to why so many other Jews support Obama I think Leftism is more their religion than Judaism

  4. Yes, orthodox Jews tend to be politically conservative, reform and conservative ones tend to be leftist. I agree also that leftist politics substitutes for religion for many of the less religious. But why so many of these leftist Jews stay with their leftism even as leftist politics becomes increasingly hostile to Jews and Jewish interests is beyond me.

    BTW, one group of mostly nonreligious Jews that tends to be much more politically conservative than other Jews in this country is the Russians.

  5. I don’t know – we were at a friends’ house the night of Obama’s speech; these are people bringing up their grade schoolers to be bilingual in English and Yiddish; they met because of their passion for Klezmer. We left before the speech – we had excuses, but wanted to remain friends and I’m not tactful. They are observant, though I don’t know enough about Judaism nor their daily lives to know much more than they can’t come to Friday night parties and keep a Kosher kitchen. I do think the Russian backgrounds that came over at the turn of the last century often became red diaper babies; the ones that actually lived through communism before they got out probably had different experiences. (Two groups that vote pretty heavily Republican are the Cubans and the Vietnamese. Experience is a hard teacher but people learn.)

  6. It’s pretty simple. Israel is not strong enough to attack Iran effectively. The deep bunkers at Qom are beyond Israeli capacity and the entire affair is pretty dodgy. They will lose some aircraft and the response from Iran and Hizbollah will be strong. If Iran can get a missile into Dimona things could become very ugly with Jerusalem only some 50 miles away. Iran is just strong enough to deter Israel alone.

    If Bibi can get the USA to do the work there will be an effective attack and most of the Iranian deep bunkers will be damaged at least. With American anti missile and missile launch site interdiction fully deployed there is much less danger of retaliatory strikes from Iran although Hizbollah’s rain of small rockets would probably overwhelm any anti missile efforts.

    He is trying to force Obama into a corner. He won’t be able to.

  7. Yes, crafty devil. He is trying to force Obama into a corner by appealing to mutual interest. But don’t worry, Obama is too smart to fall for it. We can appease contain the Iranian regime and everything will be fine. Obama is playing a long game that we are not smart enough to understand. It’s not like he is sending perverse signals by leaking our ally’s plans while running out the clock for our avowed enemy.

    Now is as good a time as any for Israel to attack Iranian nuclear infrastructure. Hezbollah is relatively isolated because of the Syrian chaos and its rocket launchers can be bombed. Iran isn’t likely to shoot missiles at Dimona, because Iran has a limited number of long-range missiles, they are too inaccurate and reactors are poor targets. Israel has competent anti-missile defenses. The whole operation will be costly for Israel, which is why Israel won’t act until there is no alternative and the domestic political consensus gels. That is how serious countries handle existential threats. If Israel does attack it will have a decent chance of setting back Iran’s nuclear program by a few years and that will be worth it. And if that happens the mullahs might even decide not to invest so much in WMD going forward, as the cost/benefit matrix will have changed.

  8. “The current situation is more than a little like the period before the Six Day War. ”

    It has similarities to 1938, as well.

    Tony Cordesman has a paper at CSIS on an Israel-Iran war. His conclusions are harsh, and maybe a bit out of date, but should be considered by the Iranians. The problem is that the mullahs and Achmanutjob are suicidal, or at least say so. More recently, Cordesman is more pessimistic.

    There is no good option but that may not be the final word. Deterrence does not deter crazies. Hitler was rational in 1936. Maybe he wasn’t but German generals were. The Iranians are not suicidal but their ruling class is. I don’t know if the people could overthrow the government. Maybe they could have in 2009 but they got no support from you-know-who.

  9. Dimona is about 1200 Km from useful Iranian launchers. That is well within the Range of Shabab 3 and the members of the Shabab family that came later. This is partly developed from Russian MRBM tech which is the most accurate in the world. Now the 1 meter CEP that the Iskander family of Russian MRBMs boasts is beyond the Iranians but it is probable the Shabab 3 etc can do under 60 meters CEP. With the truly trick ability to change it’s trajectory several times in the final approach it is a difficult target for any anti missile effort. With a 1 ton warhead and enough numbers, they have been mass producing them since 2006 or so, Dimona is in no way safe.

    With the continued work on Iranian missiles and the probable reverse engineering of the Russian RD 216 they had acquired some of the newer Koussar types which may be a Shabab 6 effort actually, a range of 4000 to 5000 Km should be quite possible.

    They do launch their own satellites and although they are small and not up to modern western standards they are not far from being able to launch useful ancillary satellites for final stage guidance which gives the Russian Iskander MRBMs their frightening accuracy.

  10. PenGun Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 2:52 am

    Let us posit that everything you said is true and absolutely accurate. I’ll give you that for the purposes of this discussion. Combining their world class missile technology, with the development of nuclear warheads, AND the repeated statements threatening the destruction of Israel …

    1) Would not that make it more imperative that Israel use its own nuclear forces to destroy Iran first?

    2) If it does so, does that not mean that not only the Western world will be against Israel, but also the entire Ummah will be attacking Israel by any means, probably with the assistance of Pakistan and its nuclear weapons?

    3) If that becomes the situation, is not the only rational response by Israel to expand the strike in #1 to destroy the entire Ummah as a functioning entity?

    4) Noting that such [#3] is possible according to studies of the correlation of forces; the Western Powers and China are sufficiently rational [unlike the Ummah] to at least take the risks of a countervalue strike seriously, and thus may, unlike Iran and the rest of the Ummah may possibly be deterred from striking Israel. The economic/political consequences to Israel will be horrendous, but better than a second Israeli Shoah. If the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China do strike Israel, they are no more dead than if Iranian bombs do the deed.

    5) The one thing that might prevent this train of logic from being followed is a credible belief that the United States and the Western Powers would prevent such an Iranian strike as per the premise at the beginning. Not only is there no hint of such, the United States under Obama is giving every impression of doing its best to enable such a strike.

    6) Given that Iran openly refers to Israel as the “Lesser Satan” and the United States as the “Great Satan”, and includes the US in the threats of destruction; is it not a rational approach for Americans [as opposed to the current administration, which has no such concerns] to believe that if Israel is struck, the United States will also be either simultaneously, or as shortly thereafter as can be arranged by the Mullah’s?

    7) And if such is the case, is it not rational for Americans to hope that any such strike by Israel (a) be before an Iranian nuclear capability is manifest, (b) strike hard, and (c) strike true?

    Subotai Bahadur

  11. Wow. I will remind you that Israel is one, just one SS 18 “Satan” missile from complete annihilation. 10 1 megaton warheads with a CEP of under 100 meters. The reason Minutemen became obsolete.

    It would not surprise me if that happens if your ‘nuke em all’ scenario ever gets started.

  12. PenGun Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Wow. I will remind you that Israel is one, just one SS 18 “Satan” missile from complete annihilation. 10 1 megaton warheads with a CEP of under 100 meters.

    If nuclear weapons are used against Israel [by anyone] CEP on that order will be irrelevant. Israel is primarily a countervalue target, and CEP’s of that order are used to go for hardened targets.

    Yes, Israel can be destroyed by a nuclear strike. And Iran intends to do that. And yes, if Russia, or the US, or France, or Great Britain, or China launch such a strike against Israel, they are just as dead, once. What incentive does Israel have not to strike Iran, and beyond; if they know that not striking means that they are nuked, and if they do strike they have a chance not to be nuked by the the Ummah?, and a chance of being nuked by any of the above countries.

    It is not like there is any chance that any of the nuclear powers are doing anything but enable an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel. In fact, the knowledge that they are alone puts them in a position where their options are limited to death, or death.

    Are you saying, openly, that Russia will definitely nuke Israel if Israel strikes Iran or elsewhere? I would ask your source for that. And once again, what reason do they have not to be Samson in the Temple?

    Subotai Bahadur

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