How bad are the relations between Israel and the United States?
It's a question in our headlines, reflecting the latest blips in the ongoing disagreement between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations about the need to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
Things have not been all that good between Israel and Barack Obama since the Cairo speech in 2009 that won for him a Nobel Prize, and a subsequent demand to stop building homes for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Now the issue of trust may be dipping to a new low, with comments from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Demsey about it being too early to strike Iran, his not wanting to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack, and an even more recent report in TIME Magazine that the United States decided to downsize a joint military exercise with Israel.
Israeli officials are asserting that the reduction had been known for some time, that it was a product of professional considerations rather than a political signal, that it was not a significant downsizing, and that relations between Israel and the United States remain firm and friendly.
Not all commentators are convinced. The timing is too good for it not to be an indication of US displeasure on account of continued Israeli discussions about a need to attack Iran, and soon.
Perhaps the signal was the TIME article and not the reductions in the exercise. Even if the reductions had been known for some time, it may have been someone in the vast, complex, and competitive White House-Pentagon-State Department establishments--with or without Obama's knowledge, prompting, blessing, or even agreement--who let a contact in TIME know about it now in order to send a signal of discontent with Israel.
An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal added its considerable weight to Israeli concerns. It begins with the headline, "Why Israel Doesn't Trust Obama."
"Administration officials have . . . repeatedly told the media that they aren't entirely sure if Iran really intends to build a bomb. . . .
No wonder the Israelis are upset--at the U.S. Administration. It's one thing to hear from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he wants to wipe you off the map: At least it has the ring of honesty. It's quite another to hear from President Obama that he has your back, even as his Administration tries to sell to the public a make-believe world in which Iran's nuclear intentions are potentially peaceful, sanctions are working and diplomacy hasn't failed after three and half years.
The irony for the Administration is that its head-in-the-sand performance is why many Israeli decision-makers believe they had better strike sooner than later. Not only is there waning confidence that Mr. Obama is prepared to take military action on his own, but there's also a fear that a re-elected President Obama will take a much harsher line on an Israeli attack than he would before the first Tuesday in November. . . .
Since coming to office, Obama Administration policy toward Israel has alternated between animus and incompetence."
Yedioth Aharonoth expressed at least part of the Israeli perspective on the Obama administration.
"Claiming that on the one hand, it supports Israel while on the other actually seems more inflexible towards Israel than towards the Iranian nuclear program."
Yet another item reports a "heated" meeting between Prime Minister Netayahu and American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.
" . . . unnamed sources present at the meeting (are) saying "sparks and lightning were flying" when the two men discussed the Iran situation. According to the sources, Netanyahu openly blasted what he called Obama's ineffectual policies vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program . . . Netanyahu reportedly told Shapiro that instead of worrying about whether or not Israel will strike Iran, Obama should focus on the root of the problem and put some real pressure on Tehran. At that point, Shapiro was said to have broken diplomatic protocol and snapped back at Netanyahu, insisting that the Israeli leader was misrepresenting Obama's position."
The Ambassador denied the tension on an interview with Channel 2. He said the newspaper accounts of the meeting were not accurate.
That is what we expect a polished displomat to say. The reports may not be accurate in all the details.
No surprise that Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom is waxing enthusiastic about Mitt Romney, along with a front page headline "Why doesn't Obama dissociate himself from his commanding general?"
Perhaps in response to all of this, the New York Times headlines that Washington is trying to calm Israel by upping its efforts to restrain Iran.
"With Israel openly debating whether to strike at Iran'snuclear facilities in the coming months, the Obama administration is moving ahead with a range of steps short of war that it hopes will forestall an Israeli attack, while forcing the Iranians to take more seriously negotiations that are all but stalemated."
Israelis are--for good reason--preoccupied with the President's real intentions about Iran, even while aware that Israel is a minor issue among Americans--and even among American Jews--who will vote in the presidential election. Romney is widely viewed as a more supportive candidate, but journalists who parsed his comments during a recent visit here noted that he provided less than a firm promise to help if he was elected. Moreover, other positions promoted by Romney and/or those who controlled the drafting of the Republican platform cause wonder about the incidence of Americans who are off the edge of Western civilization on the issues of abortion. medical care, taxation, and the role of government.
I perceive in increase in the incidence of commentators concluding that Israel will strike Iran soon, with or without America's blessing and support, even while there remains considerable skepticism or opposition to such a strike.
Last week Varda came from the distribution center with our new gas masks. Along with a few more notes from me, that will be the extent of this aged couple's contributions to the national emergency.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at September 03, 2012 12:35 AM