Israel Navy chief Rear Admiral Eliezer Marom, who has been on the defensive ever since he encountered the Mavi Marmara, received some indirect support from afar last week. In contacts with foreigners, Marom's rank is "Vice Admiral," that is, a three-star Flag Officer; landlubbing lieutenant generals like Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi do not care how people call admirals abroad. One man who uses his acquaintence with Marom as proof of his concern for Israel's security is three-star admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for senator from Pennsylvania.
A conservative alliance of Jewish Republicans and messianic Christians attacked Sestak as as a hater of Israel. In response, he fondly recalled his six visits to Israel when he was in the navy. In 2003, ahead of the war in Iraq, he protected Israel from Iraqi missiles as a commander of a naval task force. In Congress he consistently votes for bills to assist Israel and thwart the Iranian nuclear program. Last year he discussed protection from missiles with senior officials in the Defense Ministry. And to top it all off, during Hanukkah 2007, Sestak was a guest at the home of the Israeli ambassador in Washington for a talk with Marom.
About five years ago, Sestak was ousted from his post as a deputy chief of naval operations and pushed into retirement and politics. The man who removed Sestak, in his first week as Chief of Naval Operations, was Admiral Michael Mullen, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a friend of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Ashkenazi. The tension between Mullen and Sestak is palpable during House Armed Services Committee hearings. The Democratic Party considers Sestak a member of the Bill and Hillary Clinton faction; that does not necessarily bring him closer to President Barack Obama, who tried to entice Sestak not to run in the Democratic primary against Arlen Specter, in gratitude to Specter, who jumped lines from the Republican Party, thus ensuring Obama a supermajority in the Senate. However, now it is important to Obama that Sestak overcome his Republican adversary in the November elections and thus do his part to stop the erosion in the two houses of Congresses.
That is how it happened that in Pennsylvania and other swing states, the attitude of Obama and the Democrats to Israel has become a contentious issue in the election campaign. This is a game all sides know very well how to play. Obama hid his sharp teeth behind a forced smile in his meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. State Department official Andrew Shapiro, Hillary Clinton's former Senate aide, enumerated Obama's and Clinton's contributions to Israel. A similar formulation appeared in a letter from the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Howard Berman.
Shapiro and Berman made a ridiculous effort not to mention the name of George W. Bush. In 2007, the administration promised $30 billion in a decade to Israel. Good for Obama, the Democrats say - he is continuing to fulfill the pledge of what's his name, his predecessor.
This turmoil has a clear expiration date: the first week of November. The day after the elections the smile will give way to the bite, and once again, reality will slap Netanyahu in the face. But Netanyahu is not really a prime minister in a sweaty Hebrew-speaking Middle Eastern country. He thinks like an American politician, armed with more fluent, accentless English than that Austrian from California, Arnold Schwartzenegger; a senator or governor from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Louisiana - Benjamin Nitai from Boston, governor of Israelsylvania or Israeliana.
This could be the right time to get some security achievements out of Obama, such as a discount on the F-35 fighter aircraft (reducing the surcharge the Pentagon unloads on the manufacturer's price ) and installing Israeli systems in it - but not political concessions. The direct talks, to which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will agree, do not necessarily mean only bilateral, without American presence in or near the room. And the essence will not change, even if the Republicans secure a blocking majority against Obama. Bush was the first president to call for a Palestinian state, and in Annapolis he launched the talks that Netanyahu cut off and will be renewed from that same point. Netanyahu's petty politics undermine the serious statesmanship that Israel is in dire need of.
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