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PV Vivekanand: Obama ‘bad’ news for Israel
March 31, 2012
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“On all these issues, particularly missile defence, this can be solved. It is important for him (Russian president-in-waiting Vladimar Putin who takes office in May) to give me space. This is my last election,” US President Barack Obama was “caught” telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on an open microphone in Seoul, South Korea, last week.

Obviously, Obama meant that he would be in a better political position to make compromises since he does not have to worry about re-election during his second term in office. But Israel is already worrying about an Obama second term.

Israeli reports say that Obama sent a similar message to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, via Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, related to the deadlock over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Israel, which claims it faces an existential threat from a nuclear-armed Iran, does not believe Obama would back military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. US intelligence agencies have detected no evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Israel insists that Iran could possess a nuclear weapon by mid-2012, but the US intelligence officials say that Tehran has not yet decided to pursue atomic bombs and has not reconstituted a clandestine programme.

According to a Reuters report, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading figure in Iran’s nuclear programme, is heard complaining in a an intercepted (tapped) telephone call in 2006 or 2007 that Iran’s nuclear activities have been stopped. “The phone call helped form the backbone for a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in which American spy agencies expressed ‘high confidence’ that Iran had halted its nuclear programme in 2003,” according to Reuters.

In view of this observation, Obama, who is seeking to stay on at the White House in November elections for another four years, could not be expected to launch a war on Iran without explicit evidence that Tehran is close to nuclear weaponisation. He might endorse military action if such evidence emerges, but only during his second term (that is, if he wins re-election).

So, for the time being, Israel, which definitely needs direct logistic and military support from the US for successful action against Iran, has to be content with Obama’s promise that he would not allow Tehran to possess nuclear weapons and would not hesitate to use force to make sure of that.

However, that has not prevented Israeli officials from attacking Obama, who they say “will throw Israel to the wolves” when reckoning time comes along. Israeli reports say that Obama has set up a “secret” channel for communications with Iran, indicating that he is committed to using diplomacy to solve the crisis. But Israel does not want a diplomatic solution which would see Iran continuing any nuclear activity, even for internationally verified peaceful purposes.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that Israel’s “2012 war against Iran” has come to “a quiet end.”

“The war may not have been cancelled but it has certainly been postponed,” it said.

The report referred to a war simulation conducted by the US Central Command which found that the Iranians could kill 200 Americans with a single missile response to an Israeli attack. “An investigative committee would not spare any admiral or general, minister or president. The meaning of this US scenario is that the blood of these 200 would be on Israel’s hands,” Haaretz said.

“The moment the public dispute over whether to attack Iran is put in those terms, Israel has no real option to attack in contravention of American declarations and warnings,” it pointed out.

Israeli commentators accuse the Obama administration of making a deliberate effort to hinder an Iran strike by leaking classified information and intelligence assessments.

“The US administration recently shifted into high gear in its efforts to avert an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the end of the year,” wrote Ron Ben-Yishai in a report carried by online Ynet news agency on Thursday.  “The flood of reports in the American media in recent weeks attests not only to the genuine US fear that Israel intends to realise its threats; moreover, it indicates that the Obama administration has decided to take its gloves off.”

The prime US objective, according to Ben Yishai, is to “eliminate potential operational options” available to Israel. “A large part of the reports stem from false information or disinformation, and there is no reason to reveal to the Iranians what’s real and what isn’t. However, it is blatantly clear that reports in the past week alone have caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage.”

Another worry: Obama’s reference to “my last election” in his “private” comments to Medvedev should also be a source of worry for Israel on a different count. During his first term, Obama tried hard but failed to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet the minimum requirement – a freeze in settlement construction in the occupied territories – for resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has every reason to fear that Obama could be more assertive in his second term and might not be as “accommodative” or “submissive” as he was in the first term after having thrown his weight behind the “two-state”  solution shortly after assuming office in January 2009.

Obama could not have forgotten the humiliation he suffered when he confronted Netanyahu over settlement construction in March 2010 and again in May 2011 when he affirmed that the front lines of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war should be the basis for peace negotiations.

It is clear that the chemistries of the two leaders do not mix.  In November, Obama was “caught” as telling French President Nicolai Sarkozy on an open microphone: “You’re fed up with him (Netanyahu), but I have to deal with him even more often than you.”

Netanyahu should also know that he could not run to European leaders for support if Obama sought to apply pressure on him. Sarkozy has called him a “liar.”

“I don’t believe a word he says,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said in a behind-the-door conversation. Merkel has also reprimanded Netanyahu directly: “You’ve disappointed us. You haven’t taken a single step to advance peace.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron has reportedly taken to simply avoiding Netanyahu. Two of Netanyahu’s few European friends, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Greek prime minister George Papandreou, both have lost their jobs.

The Spaniards have been offended by an outgoing Israeli ambassador’s remark that they still have the “Spanish inquisition” mindset against Jews.

There is indeed increasing contempt among world leaders for Netanyahu, who has failed to deliver on a promise he made more than three years ago that he would deliver “surprises” and adopt historic decisions to make peace.

They find themselves in an embarrassing position: Despite their declarations of commitment to upholding people’s right to self-determination and human rights around the world, they have failed to really help the Palestinian struggle for independent statehood. They know that they have no one but Israel to blame for the deadlock because it is its refusal to respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinians that is the key hurdle.

No doubt Obama is also aware of this reality and he could be expected to re-energise his push for peace in Palestine during his second term. And that is bad news for Israel.

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