Despite the understandable disappointment felt at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem at the results of the U.S. presidential election, American voters have left a responsible adult in the White House.
Even if Barack Obama’s attitude toward Israel seems at times estranged, missing the overt sentiments that characterized the approach of previous presidents (themselves decidedly different from one another), including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama has a sober take on what’s happening in the Middle East and on U.S. strategic interests in the region.
It is true that Obama failed in his attempt to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks immediately after he was elected to his first term as president. He was also slow to understand the significance of the upheaval in the Arab world two years ago. But he never “threw Israel under the bus,” as was alleged by his adversary in the election, Mitt Romney. He is the first American president to back up the tough public line against Iran with even tougher sanctions, and it was he who more than any previous president contributed toward the strengthening of defense aid to Israel, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated in a line that was widely quoted by the Democrats in their effort to court the Jewish vote.
American elections are decided on domestic issues, especially the economy, but one of the first tests facing this second-term president will be the handling of the Iranian crisis. Even a president who will never again need to stand before the voters cannot afford to have his term go down as the one in which America allowed a dangerous radical regime to acquire nuclear arms.
Obama’s victory speech Wednesday morning (Israel time) was noteworthy for his patting himself on the back and for the patriotic pride – at America’s scientific, economic and military prowess. Anyone who blows his own horn at being the leader of “a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this … this world has ever known” will have a difficult time permitting Iran to produce a stockpile of nuclear bombs on his second watch.
Moments after the election results were announced, Dr. Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, predicted that the White House would soon be presenting the Iranians with a “big program” – a comprehensive deal in exchange for which they would forfeit their nuclear aspirations, a move intended to ascertain if it would be possible to halt the ayatollahs’ aspirations through diplomatic means. If not, Satloff claims, Obama will have to begin considering the use of military measures by the middle of next year.
This analysis more or less meshes with the speech given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly in September, which basically deferred the Israeli deadline for action against Iran to next spring or summer. Observers got the impression that Netanyahu has decided to make Iran the main issue of his election campaign. It may be that the hour of decision, about which everyone has been talking for so many years, will be reached in 2013.
In recent months, the more vocal the disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington on Iran, and the more vociferous the accusations by Democrats regarding Netanyahu’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, the more frequently it was alleged in Israel (from both the right and the left) that in his second term, Obama would “settle accounts” with Netanyahu. The lack of chemistry between the two leaders is by now an incontrovertible fact. But the assumption that personal rancor will dictate America’s Middle East policy has to be proven in the field.
As for Iran, it seems that the alliance of interests between America and Israel is stronger and more significant than relations between Obama and Netanyahu. Yet when it comes to a renewal of the peace process with the Palestinians, we still have to see if Obama, who already botched his first-term effort, will take another gamble and risk another failure. Iran, the murderous civil war in Syria, the complicated American relationships with China and Russia – all of these now present themselves as highly urgent foreign relations issues on the agenda of the new-old American president.
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