Obama puts his legacy on the line in Israel
STEVE HUNTLEY firstname.lastname@example.org March 21, 2013 5:00PM
Updated: April 23, 2013 2:06PM
One plausible takeaway from President Barack Obama’s trip to Israel is that he has assumed responsibility for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. While the words he said weren’t new, saying them in the Middle East and in such an uncompromising way sure made it sound like Obama means what he says.
While he insisted that time remains, perhaps a year, for diplomacy to work, Obama said again and again that all options are on the table. It left Israeli President Shimon Peres convinced that Obama is ready to “shoot if necessary” should negotiations and sanctions fail to stop Tehran’s march to the atomic bomb.
Obama’s militancy prompted Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to threaten to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if his country suffers a military strike against its nuclear program. It’s perhaps interesting to note that he said the two Israeli cities would be punished in the event of an attack from Israel. He didn’t mention the United States. Maybe he continues to be skeptical about Obama’s commitment.
Another interpretation is possible. It’s also worth noting that amid the declarations of solidarity on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times emphasized that Obama had firmly asserted Israel’s right to defend itself. That could mean he harbors doubts about Obama too. Or, it could be that Netanyahu was signaling that Obama would back an Israeli military strike. That interpretaton set off speculation that Obama may also be willing to provide military assistance for one.
It seems to me that in traveling to Israel to lay down the law on Iran, Obama crossed the Rubicon. If Tehran were to develop nuclear weaponry now, Obama’s international credibility would be in tatters, his foreign policy legacy destroyed. The atom bomb in the hands of Iran’s revolutionary Islamist fanatics would be a bigger calamity for Obama — and the world — than the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was for President George W. Bush.
Another test of Obama’s credibility may come before Iran. In Israel, the president declared again that Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people would be crossing a red line and a “game changer” for the two-year civil war there, provoking a U.S. response. Credible reports emerged in recent days of the use of chemicals in the fighting there. If investigations do show Bashar Assad has defied Obama’s warning, how will he respond?
While the White House said ahead of the visit that Obama would not be carrying any new peace proposal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he did try to revive the negotiations. In Ramallah, he urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the bargaining table without preconditions, meaning an end to the demand that Israel freeze all building in disputed territories before talks resume. In a speech to Israeli youth, Obama laid out all the reasons he thinks Israel should take a chance in another drive for peace and asserted that the Israelis have a partner in Abbas. Yet, his remarks identified the chief obstacle to the path to peace — the Arab world’s hostility to the Jewish state. Despite what he said about the possibilities of hope in the change sweeping Arab countries, that change is increasingly being hijacked by extremist Islamism inimical to Israel and peace.
It might turn out that the Arab world would be more open to the peace ideas of an American president who stopped Persian Iran with its hegemonic ambitions from developing the world’s deadliest weapon.