Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you
The subtext in President Barack Obama’s speech to the AIPAC conference tonight was that he is essentially asking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a leap of faith.
In my opinion, the subtext that Obama was signaling goes something like this:
There’s still plenty of time for sanctions and diplomacy to work against Iran, say about until November, when I’m up for reelection. I’ve pretty much got this thing in the bag [the Republicans can't choose a contender and are tearing each other new assholes every day], so please, Bibi, don’t screw it up for me by attacking Iran. I’m asking you to be still for now, stop talking so much, and stop your people talking so much. But if instead you launch an attack on Iran the following things will happen:
a) you’ll send the price of oil through the roof of the White House, and you might just cost me my budding economic recovery, and possibly my reelection
b) you’ll unleash hell on earth in the Middle East, and many of my men and women in uniform will die
c) you’ll take the heat off Bashar Assad in Syria and all eyes will be on your new war, which nobody knows how long and how bloody it will be
d) you’ll rally the Iranian people behind their regime, and you’ll destroy any chance for popular democratic movements to someday topple the regime
e) you might knock out some of their nuclear sites, but they’ll build them right back, and they’ll be pissed, and they’ll be right to be pissed; and then everyone else in the region will get nuclear weapons anyway
f) you’ll create a focal point for all the energies of the Arab Spring/ Islamic Winter to turn on your people, and this could last for generations and be very, very bad for your country’s long-term security
What I did hear from Obama was that, when push comes to shove, “he’s got our back.” This is not a statement to be taken lightly, not when it’s delivered by the President of the United States of America. The other statement I heard from Obama is that he has “no containment policy” towards Iran’s nuclear program. His policy is that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. He also said he respects Israel’s right to defend itself BY ITSELF. These statements give me hope that if Netanyahu does intend to launch an Israeli military assault on Iran, Obama will not stand in our way. Obama came across as a man saying to the Israelis: “Listen, I know you’re extremely worried about this thing, but you can count on me, when it comes to your security, I’ve proven over and over again that I come through. So when I say that I will not let Iran get a nuclear weapon, I mean that I will not let Iran get a nuclear weapon. So don’t do anything hasty now, and we’ll work on this thing together. I respect the fact that you need to reserve the right to act on your own to safeguard your own security, but trust me on this, there will still be time for my armed forces to handle this if diplomacy doesn’t work out; and we can do things you can’t. I won’t let you down.”
But, the way Jerusalem sees it, Obama is asking the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to trust him on the most critical security challenge the Jewish state has faced since its birth in 1948. He’s asking Netanyahu to do what he has vowed never to do: let the last window of opportunity for an Israeli military option against an existential security threat to close. He’s asking for Netanyahu to do what no other Israeli prime minister has ever done before. He’s asking the leader of Israel to place the future security, and possibly, the future existence, of the reconstituted state of the Jews, into the hands of an American president with whom he’s had a relationship devoid of any real mutual trust.
Can Netanyahu make that leap of faith? Can he trust Obama? Should he? I don’t know, time will tell.
A crucial line in Obama’s speech delineates the different red lines, and thus the divergence between Jerusalem and Washington. Obama said, “The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon.” He’s right on this. But the point Israel wants to stress is that it does not want Iran to be capable of producing a nuclear weapon. And this means that Iran must either stop its nuclear program now, or it must be stopped by military action. That’s where the grey area between the red lines is, and that is where Obama wants Netanyahu to compromise.
I haven’t seen an advance copy of Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC, which he is scheduled to deliver tomorrow, but I can take an educated guess that the subtext will go something like this:
“Mr. President, we have to stop Iran now, before they put their enrichment facilities inside mountains which not even the biggest American bombs can penetrate. Listen, I’m aware that you’re in an election year, and that you seem to have this thing pretty much in the bag. I’m also in an election year. But neither of us should worry about that now. Neither of us should put the price of oil above the price of my people’s blood. Do you understand where I’m coming from? You think that I’m acting from an emotional position, but I’m actually acting from a very realistic position. Listen to what the Ayatollahs are saying. Look at how they’re proceeding to build a bomb. Put two and two together. We gotta do this thing now because if we slip up and they get atomic bombs, we’re all in for a nightmare beyond your wildest, well, nightmares. You tell me you’ll handle it? You’re asking me to put the security of my people into your hands? Well OK Mr. President. Show me what you’ve got. Let’s take down the Iranians together, and don’t worry, Israel is behind you. I’ve got your back.”