A miracle man no longer
Obama ads targeted at Jewish voters feature Sderot, while Romney ads feature Jerusalem, and this is the major difference between the two philosophies and platforms.
I share the opinion of most Israelis that a victory for Mitt Romney would be preferable for Israel. My unease with Barack Obama preceded his 2008 victory, but it was reinforced by his 2009 Cairo speech, his cultivation of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his coolness toward Benjamin Netanyahu.
Although President Obama invoked Yad Vashem and Sderot in last week's final debate with Mitt Romney, this unease was not allayed. I have no doubt that Obama's solicitude for Sderot was genuine, but it channeled the Cairo speech, which connected Israel's establishment with the Holocaust. For some liberals, Israel can only do right as a victim and never as a victor. Romney's visit on Tisha B'Av to Jerusalem, even with major donors in tow, emphasized a different story of how the Jewish people arose from destruction and reestablished their capital in Jerusalem, thanks to successfully prosecuting defensive wars in 1948 and 1967. Obama ads targeted at Jewish voters feature Sderot, while Romney ads feature Jerusalem, and this is the major difference between the two philosophies and two platforms.
Israel is appropriately grateful to the Obama administration for helping finance Israeli anti-missile technology, whose breakthroughs also contribute to America's strategic well-being. In the most recent exchange with Gaza, these missiles achieved some kills, but even if they were to attain a kill rate equivalent to a major league batting champion, 1,000,000 Israelis are still taking refuge in shelters, Be'er Sheva schools are closed and Sderot residents demonstrate at the Prime Minister's Office demanding either a major military operation or a massive investment in civil defense because they have despaired of military action.
We have reached an absurd situation. Israel will be forced to pay for better shelters, while simultaneously supplying Gaza -- the source of the problem -- with food and fuel. The Netanyahu government, to its discredit, has not improved on its predecessor's record in terms of Gaza, but part of the government's restraint is due to fears that American backing for a more decisive version of Operation Cast Lead would not be assured.
The belief that high-tech solutions, whether in Sderot or in Pakistan, can be a substitute for conventional approaches colors Barack Obama's thinking, and it came across quite clearly when he disparaged Mitt Romney's presumed attachment to horses and bayonets. Since the Polish cavalry suicidally charged German panzer tanks in 1939, nobody seriously equates military power with horsepower, but one cannot veer to the other extreme and predicate military power exclusively on drones and computer viruses.
An over-reliance on high tech, accompanied by the neglect of traditional arms, can also prove a recipe for disaster, as Israel learned to its sorrow in the Second Lebanon War. Access to advanced technology will afford no compensation if Israel is to be pressured to retreat to the vulnerable 1967 borders, as the Obama administration favors. This will turn the entire country into Sderot.
Obama's chumminess with the Islamic regimes in Egypt and Turkey is another source of concern. This willingness to engage Islamists does not validate conspiracy theories that paint Obama as a closet Muslim, but it does reflect the hope that the United States can identify an Islamist Tito who would place his country's national interest over that of a global Muslim caliphate. As both Egypt and Turkey have in the past experienced a secular national identity separate from Islam, they would appear to be promising candidates to develop a less aggressive version of political Islam that could be propagated elsewhere.
But there are problems with this parallel. Tito knew that he could never supplant Stalin or the Soviet Union's place in the communist world. His country was just too small and poor to assume this role, and therefore, once the break with the Soviet Union was irrevocable, his best bet was to loosen the fetters of the movement and develop his own variant.
This is not the case with Turkey and Egypt. Both countries have also experienced periods when they lead the Islamic world, and they seek to recapture past glory. The term neo-Ottomanism to describe current Turkish policy is a tip-off. If the original Ottomans displayed a reasonable tolerance to minorities that endeared them to Benjamin Disraeli, today's version is more toxic. Turkey doesn't want to tame the Islamic tiger, but to ride it to regional influence. If that means backing IHH flotillas and excluding Israel from anti-terror exercises, so be it.
When the Ottomans fell, it was Egypt under King Fuad that wanted to set up a replacement caliphate on the Nile. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leaders feel that since their movement developed the political blend of Islam that dominated the Arab Spring, they are legitimate candidates for leading the Islamic world. Aside from having an ideology that is steeped in both traditional as well as 20th-century European anti-Semitism, the Brotherhood claims that the peace treaty with Israel has stunted Cairo's regional influence. Accordingly they are working to subvert that treaty.
Obama may believe in his ability to reconcile friendship with Islamists and friendship with Israel. However, even his ardent supporters no longer believe that he is the miracle man of 2008.
Political scientist Dr. Amiel Ungar writes a monthly column for Haaretz English Edition.