Obama Is Too Much for Them

The question that should preoccupy each of Israel's prime ministerial candidates, is not whether the premiership exceeds their abilities, but whether Obama is too much for them.

"She can do it?" "It's too much for her?" "It's nothing for him?" What exactly are the technical specifications Israel's policy technicians require of the candidates to win the elections? Since there is widespread agreement that none of them are great leaders, at best capable of leading the Israeli wagon to the next traffic light, the only thing left to ask is whether the next prime minister will at least be able to comprehend the new traffic rules, which are set in Washington, Europe and even in the Arab states.

This is because the next decision will not be about the candidates' ability to make a wise military decision at 3 A.M., but whether they can bite their lip and hold back. It will not be about their ability to command air force jets heading toward Tehran, but whether they can avoid issuing such an order. As such, a question that desperately begs an answer is how the next prime minister will respond to the possibility of a direct dialogue between Iran and the United States. Will he or she hire every available lobbyist in Washington and set up a protest tent in front of the White House, or instead support such an initiative?

After all, it is easy to make a decision when the enemy is a bunch of people shooting rockets surrounded by a vulnerable civilian population, confining one's strategic worldview to a little strip of beach unable to pose an existential threat. What will be the policy once the game moves to the big leagues?

The statements made by U.S. President Barack Obama, his secretary of state and even the U.S. military's top brass suggest that the diplomatic iceberg George W. Bush placed in front of Iran is beginning to succumb to global warming. Iran is a potential partner in the war against terror, the Americans say, and in light of the fact that European states also nurture diplomatic ties with Tehran, it is clear that any Israeli leader's ability to make a 3 A.M. decision is not the most important skill right now.

Not only are relations with Iran part of a new American strategy in the making, so is the renewal of ties with Syria. Reports that Obama intends to appoint an ambassador to Syria have proved hard to digest for many people in Israel, but it seems as though the new U.S. administration is not too concerned with Israelis' stomach problems. Syria wants to negotiate with Israel and mostly to normalize its relations with Washington. And Obama has things to offer.

He, too, appears to understand that the policy of sanctions has not borne any real fruit. The sanctions have not prompted Syrians to rise up against their regime; neither has this scenario occurred in Iran. Despite the sanctions, Tehran managed to develop advanced technologies to launch a satellite into space, while Syria managed to impose itself on Lebanon. Obama apparently realized quickly that it would be in Israel's interest to have the Israeli-Palestinian conflict disrupt America's moves in the region, and therefore rushed to dispatch a warning, embodied by special envoy George Mitchell. Pre-election Israel was caught off guard. No candidate proved capable of offering a plan, a program, an idea.

The differences between Washington and Jerusalem do not concern the essence of the threat. Obama's America also believes Iran is no Switzerland and Syria is not Mexico. The dissension is over how to neutralize the threat. The question that should preoccupy each of Israel's prime ministerial candidates, therefore, is not whether the premiership exceeds their abilities, but whether Obama is too much for them. Can anyone among them truly appreciate the new American policy as an opportunity and not just a threat, and ensure that Israel is not sliding into a collision course with the administration?

It is precisely this question, which pertains to Israel's very existence, on which the candidates are mum. They are capable of telling us what they said, and what their rivals did not say about the war in Gaza, the Second Lebanon War, or lifting the roadblocks and opening the crossings. But these are insignificant electoral slogans. Has any one of them said anything recently on Iran? Did any one of them speak substantively on dialogue with Syria? If these are trivial matters during an election campaign, why do they assume such importance after or even before the election? Maybe they are just fooling us.