Is Obama Stabbing Israel In the Back?

That’s what Anne Bayefsky thinks:

Over the course of a week in which the president spoke frequently on the subject of Iran, one message stood out. By vociferously arguing that his administration’s brand of diplomacy is realistically capable of ending Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and that views to the contrary are irresponsible war-mongering, Obama is attempting to undermine the legality of an Israeli strike.

In fact, self-defense in international law depends on the assessment that the threat posed to one’s civilian population is real and sufficiently imminent as to justify the use of force to prevent the impending harm. Given the catastrophic nature of the danger, it is not necessary for Israel — or America — to wait until the genocidal Iranian mullahs and President Ahmadinejad have their hands on the nuclear trigger.

But President Obama is painting a different picture. If Israel can be cast as pre-empting or forgoing the reasonable possibility of diplomatic success with a “rational actor” — as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently described Iran — then it would not be engaged in justifiable self-defense. Labeling discussion of the necessity of using force to stymie Iran’s aggressive behavior as “loose talk of war” or “beating the drums of war” — in the president’s words — is also to deny that such a move would be legitimate self-defense.

This explains why in Sunday’s speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, the president lunged the knife into Israel’s back and twisted it: “I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy. … Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. … Israel…[has] an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.” The insulting innuendo was that without his wise admonition Israeli mothers and fathers would be hankering to send their children into battle.

Bayefsky reminds us that the Obama administration has been saying for years that time is running out for the mullahs to demonstrate that they are not building an offensive nuclear capacity. These are just two of the examples she cites:

On November 29, 2009, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said: “Time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.”

Or compare the president himself in his first year in office to the Obama of today. On May 18, 2009, President Obama was asked about Iran and any deadlines for his “policy of engagement.” He responded: “You know, I don’t want to set an artificial deadline. … We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction.”

Almost three years later, the president is still spinning his wheels. On March 6, 2012, after the administration announced a new round of talks with Iran, the president told a news conference in eerily similar terms: “To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. … They know how to do it, and the question is going to be whether in these discussions they show themselves moving clearly in that direction.”

Anne concludes:

The president of the United States is still pretending that Iran could prove that its intentions are peaceful and is wondering where the Iranians are headed. And to forestall the possibility that Israel will give up on America’s commander-in-chief having his own country’s back, let alone theirs, President Obama is busy sabotaging the Jewish state’s right of self-defense.

Is she right? She may well be. But one or two more factors should be added to the mix. An Israeli news source has reported that Obama offered to give Israel advanced weapons, including bunker-busting bombs and refueling planes, in exchange for Israel’s promise not to attack Iran until after the election in November. As Israeli government official has confirmed that Israel asked for those weapons in a recent meeting with Obama, but described the alleged quid pro quo as “unrealistic.” Meanwhile, the Obama administration denied that any such transfer of weaponry was even discussed.

The second point to keep in mind is that Obama denounced Republican contenders, not Netanyahu or other Israeli leaders, for “beating the drums of war” with regard to Iran, accusing them of being insensitive to the sacrifices made by our military personnel.

How to piece all of that together? The common thread, it seems to me, is Obama’s overriding desire to be re-elected. His generally negative attitude toward Israel over the years suggests that Israel’s survival is not a priority to him. At the same time, his campaign desperately needs Democratic Jewish donors. Hence his sudden change in tone with regard to Israel and his assurance at AIPAC that he “has Israel’s back.”

Meanwhile, Obama does not want the Middle East to explode between now and November, as he can’t foresee the consequences of a possible war between Iran and Israel. Unforeseen events might derail his re-election. So the idea that he would offer Israel a quid pro quo to delay any attack is highly plausible. The fact that an Israeli official confirms that Israel asked for bunker-busting weapons while the administration denies that any such discussion took place makes the claim more plausible still.

But, staying with the assumption that what drives Obama is his political future, he is left with one fear: that Republicans may persuasively cast his efforts to put off the conflict through patently futile diplomacy as weakness. It was in order to pre-empt that charge and put Republicans on the defensive that he launched his salvo against Republicans who “beat the drums for war.”

So, is Obama really selling Israel down the river? That depends largely, it seems to me, on how long Israel can afford to wait before moving against Iran’s nuclear capability. If Israel can wait until after November, it likely makes sense to make some kind of deal for advanced weaponry and earn Obama’s gratitude by deferring action until after the election. If Israel can’t wait until November, then presumably it will call Obama’s bluff, take whatever action is necessary, and count on the overwhelming support of American voters. It is true, as Bayefsky says, that Obama’s insistence on the viability of diplomacy implies that any action by Israel would be “illegal” under international “law.” But if the crisis comes, Obama will fall into line. Not to do so would lessen his chances for re-election.

Perhaps I misread the situation; I will be interested to see what Scott makes of these thoughts. But it seems to me that it is really Netanyahu who is in the driver’s seat; that he has plumbed the depths of Obama’s cynicism, and will do what his country’s security requires.

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