One might have hoped that Obama’s calamitous mishandling of recent Middle East crises, climaxing with his disastrous response to the Syrian use of chemical weapons, would have taught him a few lessons on regional politics.
Regrettably, his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week proved otherwise. By reverting to his original Cairo speech – insisting that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian peace “would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa”, Obama has caused many Israelis not merely to question his competence but also his real intentions towards Israel.
The notion that the stability of the entire Middle East region hinges on the resolution of the Israeli –Palestinian conflict, is utterly absurd. Our conflict has no bearing on the complex and far more problematic conflicts and pressure points surrounding us: the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites, the resurgence of Al Qaeda, the rise of the Moslem Brotherhood, the persecution and murder of Christians throughout the Moslem world, the threat of a nuclear Iran, the chaos in Libya and Yemen, the upheavals in Egypt, the global Islamic terror attacks extending from New York to Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mali and most recently Kenya, and above all, the carnage in Syria. To place responsibility for regional stability on Israel in the midst of this chaos is a terrible misreading of reality.
To compound matters, President Obama linked the Iranian nuclear threat and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, treating them with equal importance – a clear signal that the US expects Israel to make major concessions to the Palestinians in return for “undertakings” to prevent the Iranians from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Prime Minister Netanyahu must have been bitterly disappointed. He has bent over backwards in efforts to please Obama. At Obama’s urging he extended a humiliating apology to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan for the killing of the Turkish terrorists seeking to violently breach Israel’s maritime arms blockade against Gaza. Yet, when Erdogan subsequently refused to fulfill his undertakings, Obama failed to even reprimand him.
Netanyahu outraged most Israelis by capitulating to extreme US pressure by releasing Palestinian terrorists, many of whom were mass murderers.
He also encouraged AIPAC to support the President in Congress on the Syrian issue – an act which backfired after Obama equivocated, and then withdrew his request for Congressional support.
Yet Obama disregarded all Netanyahu’s efforts and once again left him in the cold. Ignoring the asymmetry of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he complimented both parties for “having demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks” – explaining that Israel had released large numbers of hard-core terrorists (an act which no US government would conceivably contemplate) and bracketing this with the reciprocal Palestinian “concession” – to engage in negotiations with the Israelis! Does he really believe that Israel releasing mass murderers and the Palestinians consenting to engage in negotiations amount to equivalent political risks?
When Obama glibly proclaimed that “friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state”, he ignored the dangers Israel would face, if as is almost certain, Palestine became a failed rogue state and served as a launching pad for terrorists and states like Iran committed to its destruction. Nor did Obama even mention the visceral hatred and incitement to violence which continues to be promoted at all levels of PA society, making genuine peace inconceivable.
Obama’s desperate renewed “appeal” to the Iranians, pleading with them to engage in dialogue and foolishly reiterating that he did not consider regime change as an objective was also profoundly disappointing..
The new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in stark contrast to his deranged predecessor, Ahmadinejad, has launched an extraordinary charm offensive. Cynically oozing goodwill, he referred to the employment of nuclear weapons as a crime against humanity and sought to divert attention from the Iranian nuclear threat by demanding that Israel join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with other “enlightened” states like Iraq, Syria and Libya. With a forked tongue, he conveyed reassuring messages, encouraging protracted negotiations.
It should be recalled that in 2005, whilst serving as national security adviser and head nuclear negotiator, Rouhani brazenly lied concerning Iran’s genuine nuclear intentions. And just prior to departing for New York, he was photographed speaking at a military parade in front of a sign that read “Israel must cease to exist”.
Nor despite all his sweet talk, has Rouhani offered a single concession. Clearly, he is eager to talk and negotiate. But unless the Ayatollah decides otherwise, the centrifuges will continue spinning until Iran achieves its nuclear objective.
Yet, sensitive to his master Ayatollah Khomeini or a backlash from his hardline opponents in Iran, Rouhani humiliatingly spurned a pathetic US effort to orchestrate an “impromptu” handshake at the UN, stating that it would be premature. That did not deter Obama from telephoning him as he was about to leave for Iran, congratulating him on his election and praising his “constructive statements” on the nuclear issue.
The US and Europe are desperate for a face-saving situation to avoid confrontation with the Iranians. They ignore the ultimate result of the buildup of underground nuclear facilities and ballistic missiles.
Furthermore, the bitter reality is that after Obama’s inept zigzagging in relation to Syria, his threat that the US is “determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb” and will if necessary “use all elements of our power, including military force”, ring hollow and is unlikely to be taken seriously by the Iranians – or anyone else.
It must be deeply frustrating for Netanyahu to see the rogue state of Iran courted by the US and Europe, whilst Israel, a democracy and genuine ally of the US is treated so shabbily. The chilling parallels with the betrayal of Czechoslovakia and Chamberlain’s policies of appeasement and “peace in our time” in the late 1930s will prey on our minds in the months to come.
Netanyahu will seek to pierce through Rouhani’s sweet talk at the UN. . He will raise skepticism about Rouhani’ tactics and urge the world to prevent the Iranians from emulating the North Koreans, who achieved their nuclear objectives by similar means. He will also demand full transparency and verification, should any agreement be reached with Iran. For these expressions of objective reality and bare security necessities, he will undoubtedly be depicted as a spoiler by naive and euphoric US and global leaders seeking justification for their inaction against Iran.
He will also resist pressures from the Obama administration for additional fundamental unilateral concessions to the Palestinians. But unlike his political opponents on the right accusing him of cowardice, Netanyahu – as all Israeli leaders since the time of Ben Gurion – realizes that Israel is dependent on a superpower and that today the support of the US both politically and militarily is crucial. Netanyahu also recognizes that for all his failings, Obama with the strong encouragement of Congress continues to provide Israel with the military necessities that no other nation could provide.
Israel has a vested interest in a strong America employing its superpower status to maintain global stability. We are not obliged to behave as a vassal state. But we must act prudently. Whilst resisting pressures to concede on matters impacting on our security, we must demonstrate our appreciation of American support and be willing to make concessions on issues which Americans perceive as impacting on their interests.
The next 9 months will be challenging, especially if President Obama retains his fixation that he can resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by May 2014. There is no basis for any realistic settlement beyond an interim arrangement. Even aside from Hamas and the extraordinary turbulence in the region, it is inconceivable that an agreement could be achieved concerning issues such as the Arab refugee right of return. If Abbas himself was willing to compromise (and he is not), he would be assassinated within a matter of days.
This is a time for our leaders, including President Peres as well as the Likud hawks, to stand united. Repeated statements refuting the positions adopted by the Prime Minister, calling for annexation of territories or opposing a two state solution, undermine our global position. Such behavior enables the Palestinians to distort reality and shift the blame on Israel for the inevitable breakdown which will result from their intransigency and refusal to genuinely coexist with us.
It is unconscionable that even during this turbulent period with the upheavals in Syria and Egypt, the Obama administration blinds itself to the real barriers to peace and exploits the Iranian nuclear threat as a vehicle to pressure Israel to maintain this Alice in Wonderland negotiation charade. By demanding that we make further unilateral territorial concessions in the absence of ironclad security (which is currently impossible) the US is pressuring us to gamble with our lives and future.
The writer may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom