Obama's Seder

Very soon, in Netanyahu's visit to Washington and Obama's visit to Jerusalem, either a change will be imposed on Israeli policy, or a change will be imposed on the Israeli government.

Barack Hussein Obama is the one who highlighted his middle name. In a speech in Strasbourg, he did not wait for the Passover holiday to hold a "seder." Not just one seder (which means "order" in Hebrew) but a series of seders. There is the order of the day and a world order.

Within 10 days he revealed his plan for Afghanistan and its problematic neighbor, Pakistan; stopped by London to deal with the economic crisis that has rocked global financial institutions; trekked out to the French-German border to give a shot of adrenaline to the NATO alliance; laid out his vision for a nuclear weapon-free globe in Prague; spoke of relations between Islam and the West in Turkey; and, for dessert, reminded Benjamin Netanyahu who is king of the (white) house. Not bad for a week and a half.

The end result is that Israel's chances of gaining American understanding for an operation against Iran increased, while Netanyahu's chances of gaining American understanding for his sleights of hand and the suspension of the diplomatic process with the Palestinians have whittled down to zero. Obama will not reconcile with nuclear weapons in Iran, nor will he come to terms with Israeli obstinacy.

Obama is working within three circles - domestic, Western and global. He is first trying to muster support at home, then among NATO, which is another way of saying "the West," and finally around the world, including from powers (Russia, China) who have no interest in aiding American global leadership.

He prefers to act from a general consensus. He will make do with Western support, and he would be pained to follow a policy of American unilateralism, even if every other country protests.

As if to remove any doubt, Obama responded to a British journalist's provocative line of questioning in Strasbourg with polished pride in his belief of the uniqueness of America. Whoever hoped or feared that the new president would reveal himself to be a completely different kind of American leader, soft and apologetic, came away disappointed.

It does not matter what qualities his devotees imagined he possessed. The job, in this case as well, is larger than the man, and Obama's presidency is just one link in the long chain of an effort to cope with a grim reality, one which has no smooth passageways from black to white, or vice versa. It is now clear that Obama is not George Bush's opposite.

From the Israeli standpoint, the most essential strategic development is the shift of American interest eastward from Iraq, which took center stage during the Bush years. The focus is moving to Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. The significance is that the attention devoted to existential threats of terrorism and nuclear weapons intensifies exactly as it did during the Bush presidency, yet it is disconnected from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Concessions on the Israeli front will not aid in the fight against Al Qaida and the Taliban, nor will they dissuade Kim Jong-il from launching missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

Like Bush following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama finds himself compelled to declare that Islam is not the enemy of America. Here, his "Hussein" and his father's ethnicity help him, but the simplistic truth transmitted to his audience is that Islam is indeed the enemy.

Not all Muslims are bad, but all the bad guys are Muslims, with the exception of North Korea. A world order that is founded upon nations and multinational cooperation frameworks cannot become enslaved by religious fanaticism that will foment perpetual war, leading to the deaths of millions of civilians via the spread of nuclear weapons to unfettered regimes and organizations that have vowed to liberate holy land by killing infidels.

It is convenient for Israel that Obama's immediate nuclear challenge comes from North Korea, because the rules of conduct that Obama will lay down for states that eschew their obligations in this context will also apply to Iran. Conversations with U.S. civilian and military officials suggest that in recent weeks there has been greater recognition among members of the Obama administration that the danger of a nuclear Iran to the entire Middle East and, together with North Korea, to the spread of nuclear weapons around the world, is greater than the anticipated cost of an Israeli operation against Iran.

The Pentagon and Obama's National Security Council have become increasingly convinced of this following talks with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi in Washington and Strasbourg. In a time of change in the political leadership and stability in the senior military command, the American defense establishment views Ashkenazi as highly credible, and as someone who takes a professional approach. His assessments on the gravity of the threat as well as the capability to confront it have already been echoed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, in his briefings with the press.

But only an Israeli government that seeks peace can convince the public that its order to the IDF to act was given free from ulterior motives. If Netanyahu's natural partner is Avigdor Lieberman, Obama is indicating that his natural partner is Tzipi Livni.

Very soon, in Netanyahu's visit to Washington and Obama's visit to Jerusalem, either a change will be imposed on Israeli policy, or a change will be imposed on the Israeli government.