Some 57 percent of Israeli Jews preferred Romney, only 22% Obama (in my sector of American Israelis it was even more lopsided, a full 85% having cast absentee ballots for the challenger, only 14% for the incumbent). So, naturally, for the most part, November 7, 2012 was not a day of celebration in Israel.
Israel, too, has elections coming up—on January 22. That has prompted speculations that Obama will now throw his weight behind Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s left-of-center challengers. There are precedents for it, most notably in 1999 when President Bill Clinton sent a team of PR strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville, and Robert Shrum to help out Ehud Barak, then challenging Netanyahu (in his earlier term) from the left. Barak won by a narrow margin.
The difference is that this time, according to all polls so far, the right-of-center bloc that Netanyahu heads will win at least as decisively as it did in 2009. The left-wing challengers (some of them again being helped by Greenberg) are already crowing that the Netanyahu-Obama tensions are the former’s fault, and he thereby endangers Israeli-U.S. relations. Some say Obama will exploit this to stir fears among Israelis and shift the balance to the left.
It seems, though, that even if he tries, he won’t succeed; Israelis’ perception of a dangerous Middle Eastern environment, and of Netanyahu as a leader realistically attuned to it, is too strong.
Then there is the Palestinian issue. Will second-term Obama make a renewed pitch to get a state for the Palestinians—clearly one of his most burning aspirations when he took office?
Some say that, freed of concerns about the Jewish vote (which proved unfounded anyway), Obama will now go all-out to create another Arab state squeezed up beside a truncated Jewish one, claiming all the while that this is the greatest blessing Israel could hope for. Others contend that Obama, burned by experience, now realizes the pitfalls of such an attempt and, apart from rhetoric, won’t really embark on it.
Again, even if he does—while it may well involve further frictions with Israel and public castigations—it won’t get anywhere, for the same reason it didn’t the first time, and never has since 1937: the Palestinians aren’t interested in a compromise.
That leaves Iran.
Does Obama “have Israel’s back” on Iran, and is he prepared to do whatever is necessary, including the military option if all else fails, to stop this regime from going nuclear?
Or is he actually a softy on all Islamic radicals other than Al Qaeda, into cutting the defense budget rather than launching another war, and likely to seek a “grand deal” with Iran that will absolve him from taking any real action?
The dangers of the second possibility were well articulated on Wednesday by Israeli commentator David Weinberg, who noted:
A U.S.-Iran agreement could involve tacit recognition of Iranian hegemony in the Gulf region and acceptance of its nuclear status, in exchange for a long-term freeze in Iran’s enrichment of uranium to high levels. This would leave Ahmadinejad’s nuclear development facilities, including the Fordow underground center, intact, instead of dismantling them. This would allow the Iranians to continue refining their nuclear skills. Even at low levels of enrichment this provides a framework with which Tehran can bypass Western restrictions and hoodwink Western inspectors.
This despite the fact, Weinberg points out, that
Iran has clandestinely crossed every “red line” set by the West over the past 20 years…and has gotten away with it. So any deal that scales back sanctions and allows Iran to keep operating its advanced nuclear development facilities, even at a low level, is a fatal bargain.
Under such a scenario—with Obama having grandly proclaimed a successful deal while Iran keeps progressing toward the bomb under cover—would Netanyahu, now truly standing alone, make good on his vow to abort such progress by military means if necessary?
These questions stand to be answered in the rest of 2012 and in 2013. Meanwhile, Israel is not celebrating.
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