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Jewish Journal

What’s the Strategy?

by Michael Berenbaum

December 25, 2012 | 8:41 am

A couple of years ago a private conversation between then French President Nicholas Sarkozy and President Obama was caught on a live mike. Sarkozy said I can't bare Netanyahu, he's such a liar." Obama responded: "You're fed up with him but I have to deal with him more than you do."
 
After the latest stunt one wonders how anyone can disagree with the President's irritation.  Recall that the Prime Minister was widely perceived in Israel and the United States as overstepping the normal propriety of neutrality in a Presidential election. He pressed for a meeting with President Obama on his United Nations visit in September to get a commitment on American action in Iran. Obama wisely refused to take the meeting. 
 
Why would anyone want an American commitment to bomb Iran and perhaps to go to war to be made in a political context on the eve of the election with the Jewish vote supposedly at stake in the swing states of Florida and Ohio?
 
Recall also that in the aftermath of the election, the President backed Israel to the hilt on its battle in Gaza clearly defending Israel's right to defend its citizens attack rocket attack - justifiably so, properly so. Recall that it was Obama that approved US economic support for the Iron Dome, which proved its value during the recent attacks on Israel, after the Bush administration had not been as forthcoming. The President and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were essential to the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and US Special Forces have been placed in the Sinai to keep quiet on the border between Israel and Egypt and perhaps to constrain Hamas.
 
The administration worked hard to oppose the overwhelming vote to give Palestine the status of an observer state in the United States and was certain to veto another Palestinian effort to gain Security Council recognition of the Palestinian State.
 
On the horizon, seemingly looms an existential threat to Israel of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Though Israel talks of attacking Iran, the more it talks about such an attack, the more clear it becomes that Israel does not want to take military action alone and would prefer that the United States with its greater capability would lead the attack.
 
And the Obama administration may be called upon to intervene in the civil war - perhaps we should call it a genocide - in Syria if the Assad resorts to using chemical weapons on his enemies, domestic or foreign. The US will be essential to easing Assad out of office as the discussions between the UN representative, the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of Russia seem to indicate.
 
So why spit in the eye of the President and announce retaliation against Mahmoud Abbas by approving settlements connecting Ariel and Jerusalem and thus dividing the West Bank?
 
I know the domestic considerations. Palestinians were cheering the establishment of a their state - as if that was the outcome of the UN action. Hamas is cheering its "victory" in Gaza - one wishes them many more such victories. 
 
And many Israelis would have preferred a ground war in Gaza to defeat Hamas once and for all. They were expressing sentiments of the heart not of the mind. IDF leadership and the Defense Minister have said time and again that the Gaza problem cannot be solved militarily, at least not without a political strategy, of which there is none.
 
So after working hard to protect Israel's interest and to defend Israel in the international community, the Israeli Prime Minister thumbs his nose at the reelected President and not only expands settlements but moves into the E1 sector. Were these plans actually to materialize, at least according to some informed sources, they would divide the West Bank and make a contiguous Palestinian State impossible.
 
Netanyahu had not only alienated the President but European leaders as well. His news conference in Germany was sidetracked into a defense of settlement while the most that the German Chancellor could say was that "we agreed to disagree." It is not exactly wise to alienate Europe further if action is needed on Iran - intensifying sanctions, tacitly supporting the military action. [As an aside, one wonders why the American Jewish community has not been more vocal in support of the Administration's red line on the use of chemical warfare. There is a strange silence on Syria.]
 
Netanyahu is a masterful tactician, but one wonders what is his strategy going forward, especially if he needs the President's good will for actions - diplomatic, political and potentially military against Iran?
 
If Iran is an existential threat to Israel, the strategy of an Israeli Prime Minister - any Israeli Prime Minister -- should be to gather international support against Iran. As one looks at current actions, it seems that the only strategy that this Prime Minister has is his own reelection. 
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