Sunday, March 4, 2012

Can Israel trust Obama

 Though Mr. Obama now takes credit for sanctions, his Administration fought Congress tooth-and-nail on sanctioning Iran's central bank. The President only reluctantly signed the sanctions into law as part of a larger defense bill. His aides also worked to stop legislation to cut off Iran from making financial transactions via the Swift banking consortium.
As for military strikes, senior Administration officials have repeatedly sounded as if their top priority is deterring Israel, rather than stopping Iran from getting a bomb.
As recently as November, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said a military strike would have "unintended consequences" and wouldn't necessarily result in "deterring Iran from what they want to do." In the last two weeks, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said an Israeli strike would be "destabilizing," while Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that the Iranians haven't decided to build a bomb. Little wonder the Israelis are nervous about U.S. resolve.
It's welcome news if Mr. Obama is now trying to put those fears to rest, but he is also more outspoken than ever in trying to avert Israel from acting on its own. "Do we want a distraction in which Iran can portray itself as a victim, and deflect attention from what has to be the core issue, which is their pursuit of nuclear weapons?" Mr. Obama told Mr. Goldberg—the "distraction" here meaning an Israeli attack.
If the President's contention is that an Israeli strike would be less effective and have more unpredictable consequences than an American strike, he's right—and few Israelis would disagree. Israelis don't have the same military resources as the U.S.
The question Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli leaders have to ponder is whether Mr. Obama now means what he says. The President has built up an immense trust deficit with Israel that can't be easily dispensed in a week. All the more so when Israelis know that this is an election year when Mr. Obama needs to appear more pro-Israel than he would if he is re-elected.
It's good to hear Mr. Obama finally sounding serious about stopping a nuclear Iran. But if he now finds himself pleading with Israel not to take matters in its own hands, he should know his Administration's vacillation and mixed signals have done much to force Jerusalem's hand. More fundamentally, a President who says he doesn't "bluff" had better be prepared to act if his bluff is called.

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