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Israel’s Assessment of Obama’s Syria Policy: 76% Mediocre/Bad (but 51% Mediocre/Good)

by Shmuel Rosner

September 15, 2013 | 7:55 am

File photo of U.S. President Barack Obama
meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir
Putin in Los Cabos, Mexico, June 18, 2012
REUTERS/Jason Reed/Files

A couple of notes on the Syria deal:

1.

What do Israelis think about the US-Russia Syria deal? Surprisingly, we already have an answer. They support it – with a caveat. We should be somewhat careful with the poll that I'm using to make this point, as it was conducted before the deal was announced. Still, the answers Israelis gave to Panels Politics' Menachem Lazar are quite clear. I don't see any reason to suspect that they've changed in recent days.

So – what do they think? 58% would support "a Russian proposal that Syria's chemical weapons would be put under international supervision". 33% oppose such a proposal. 61% would prefer that the Syrian's chemical weapons would be destroyed by the international community over the alternative – a US attack on Syria (that 28% would support over an agreed upon removal of the chemical arsenal). 62% agreed last week that the new circumstances justify a postponement of an attack – only 26% say "attack" rather than "wait".

So why the "caveat"? For two reasons:

  1. A vast majority of Israelis don't believe – they didn't believe last week – that Syria will deliver and "hand its chemical arsenal to be put under international supervision". Only 5% of them believe this will happen, while a whopping 86% of them don't (9% don't know).
  2. A vast majority of them still think that if the Russia-initiated deal is "nothing but a delay tactic" the US should attack Syria. 76% of Israelis support an attack in such a scenario, while only 14% oppose it.

The bottom line then is this: Israelis would be quite happy with a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but hardly believe it is in the cards. Only 5% of them believe that Vladimir Putin's motivation is to "prevent war", while most believe that it's to "save the Assad regime" (18%), to "establish Russia as an international superpower" (57%), or to "score personal prestige on the expense of Obama" (15%). They don't believe Putin, they don't believe the Syrians – that's one big caveat.

2.

Oh – and they also find it somewhat difficult to trust Obama on this one. Only 20% of Israelis give Obama a "good" grade on his handling of "Syria's chemical weapons". 20% is definitely low, but it leaves us with a problem we've faced in the past: Do we count the "good" and the "mediocre" together – or do we count the "mediocre" along with the "bad"?

20% gave Obama a good grade.

31% say his handling of the crisis is mediocre.

45% say it is "bad".

You see the problem? If we count "good" and "mediocre" together – there's a majority of Israelis that give Obama a passing grade. A majority who do not think his policy was terrible. If we count the largest group of "bad" along with the second-largest group of "mediocre" we have a whopping number of Israelis – 76% - who do not think that President Obama did a good job in handling the crisis.

3.

Last week, I wrote an article for Al-Monitor (Hebrew here, English translation here) that was quite critical of the Obama administration. Read it and you'll know how I would have answered the poll question on Obama. And this hasn't changed following the US-Russia agreement:

Israel is paying and will yet pay a steep price for Obama’s reluctance. After all, a weak cop is a breach in the wall, just asking criminals to come on in. Moreover, Israel is also paying and may yet pay a steep price for the public support that its friends in America gave to the president, since there will be those who will accuse the “lobby” of provoking an attack, an accusation that might erode Israel’s standing with the American public. And the lobby won’t even have the pleasure of showing off his political strength. As of now, at least, the presidential goal it supports seems far from getting even a slim majority in Congress.

It is reasonable to assume that Israel will expect payback from Obama for the harm he caused it — harm that it accepted without making a peep. It makes sense that Israel will want something in return. It could be America’s silence, instead of an accusing wag of the finger, in the likely event that the peace talks with the Palestinians fail. Or it could be American acquiescence to an Israeli strike against Iran at some time or other. And there are plenty of other ideas to think up.

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