Worried about losing some of the Jewish vote for 2012, President Obama has been sweet-talking American Jews lately and making some staunchly pro-Israel statements. In September he told the UN General Assembly:
Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look[s] out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.
Strong stuff—the kind of stuff really pro-Israel people really say, and think.
But no one should be fooled. In recent days, statements by two very senior officials and one lesser official have shown that this administration remains relentlessly anti-Israel in some of its basic attitudes.
On Friday at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta again warned Israel not to attack Iran. He repeated the reasons he gave in an almost identical warning two weeks earlier: harmful economic consequences, retaliations against U.S. forces, and ineffectiveness, since, he claimed, an attack would only set Iran’s nuclear program back a year or two.
Aware that Israel’s prime minister and defense minister regard that nuclear program as an imminent—possibly within less than a year—existential threat, Panetta added that Iran is “a very grave threat to all of us,” that sanctions against Iran must be “strong, [imposed] quickly, and purposeful,” and that “it is my department’s responsibility to plan for all contingencies and to provide the president with a wide range of military options should they become necessary.”
One can ask why that should be worth the effort when, according to Panetta, the military option is close to useless anyway. But if sanctions are the thing, one can ask why the administration keeps obstructing Congress’s push to sanction Iran’s central bank. Might it have to do with “existential” fears about rising oil prices on the part of an administration that, facing an election, has already ravaged its country’s economy so badly?
This time around, though, Panetta didn’t content himself with merely admonishing Israel not to deal with its cardinal security problem, and instead to “count on us”; he also told Israel it was responsible for its—and America’s—problems in the Middle East. Israel—and not the Islamist tide now engulfing the region, which Washington’s own perverse policy of coddling and encouraging Islamists in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, and Libya has done so much to enable.
Israel, Panetta said, needs to “reach out and mend fences with those who share an interest in regional stability—countries like Turkey and Egypt, as well as Jordan.”
He said that just as the election results from Egypt were showing an overwhelming win for the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement for which jihad to the death against Israel is a fundamental tenet.
He said it even though Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has waged an unremitting campaign against Israel with the same jihadist underpinnings. As even the New York Times put it in September:
Evidently heedless of American attempts to engineer a thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey used his appearance before the annual General Assembly on Thursday to enumerate a long list of grievances with Israel, a former regional ally….
And naturally, in this context, Panetta pulled out that old shibboleth—the Palestinians. “Just get to the damned table,” he snarled; “rather than undermining the Palestinian Authority, it is in Israel’s interests to strengthen it by…continuing to transfer Palestinian tax revenues and pursuing other avenues of cooperation.”
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