President Barack Obama and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the White House, following their participation in a Hanukkah Reception (CC Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the White House, following their participation in a Hanukkah Reception (CC Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

When Barack Obama and Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, lit Chanukah candles in the Oval Office, they also cast some light on the truth about the U.S. -Israeli relationship. In the past, much was made about the ‘bad blood’ between Obama and Netanyahu – Barack Hussein Obama was a closet anti-Semite, although most of his closest friends and advisers were Jewish. On the other hand, a close aide to Obama even accused Bibi of coming close to using the N-word! The Obama-Rivlin meeting has gutted these assumptions. At the same time, it has revealed some underling truths about the Obama-Netanyahu feud over the last nearly seven years. Obama and Bibi simply had different perceptions of what policies they wanted to follow after identifying what their voters would support. Naturally, they were democratically elected.

During his first term, Obama advanced his deep-seated belief that all Americans deserved decent health care, and that a majority of Americans supported the idea. How this was implemented is open to debate. The newly elected leader was also determined to rebuild bridges with the Arab world and wind down America’s massive and costly military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On entering his second term, Obama added the nuclear deal with Iran, to be achieved at just about any price. Again, he believed this was the right thing to do, and believed, correctly, that Congress would back him. At the same time, he started pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, sending Secretary of State John Kerry and General Allen into the fray to try and adjudicate between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But the Iranian deal was the main event, whereas the Israeli-Palestinian track was a sideshow. (Actually it did help the administration to put some distance between Washington and Jerusalem to cover his bettering of ties with Tehran).

On the other hand, after Abbas walked out of previous negotiations with Israel and refused to return, there was never any real chance that a deal could be struck. Abbas was headed for an imposed agreement that would favor the Palestinians, while Netanyahu’s hands were tied by his Right wing coalition from even making some ‘good will gestures’ that could have eased the mounting international pressure on Jerusalem that has spawned the BDS movement.

The truth is that after Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat repeatedly refused Israeli offers from Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, even Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, a majority of Israelis have lost their previous hope of reaching a fair peace accord. The Israeli reaction has been: ‘We tried repeatedly in the past, Barack and Olmert were ready to give away the kitchen sink, but what did we get in return? Just more Palestinian terrorism’.

So long ago Netanyahu, who took Arafat at his words, ‘We don’t want peace, we want victory!’ decided the Palestinians would never make peace. He, as did Obama, also analyzed correctly the majority’s position. Netanyahu is not stupid, and he is not foolish. That is why he, under American pressure, once opted a ten-month freeze on settlement building and called on the Palestinians to return to the table. Abbas didn’t show up.

But even if these are the facts, Obama and Kerry viewed Israel as being far stronger, and therefore the first to make the bigger concessions – as if the Palestinians were the only security threat Israel faces. No Hamas, no Hezbollah, no Syria of Bashar Assad, no Egypt that was nearly taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, no Daesh, and no Iran striving to go nuclear. All of them would have tried to wipe Israel off the map if they got the chance. So Obama and Netanyahu were bound to cross swords – it had nothing to do with good or bad chemistry between the two leaders.

Question: If Palestinian President Abbas was truly interested in making peace, what could he have offered, seeing as Israel held all the territory and was building more housing units on the West Bank?

Answer: The Palestinians were demanding Israeli recognition for their Palestinian state, why can’t Abbas grant the same mutual recognition of Israel as the Jewish state? To this very day he refuses to do so, contending the Jewish people are not entitled to national self-determination and do not deserve a state of their own. He believes that, at best, he would be thrown out of office or thrown off the roof of a high-rise building in Ramallah.

But now Obama has got his way on Iran, and everyone is now busy trying to figure out what to do about Daesh. The special relationship is proceeding without all the verbal fireworks between Washington and Jerusalem. And that is why Obama went out of his way for Rivlin in Washington. Nonetheless, Haaretz newspaper now reports that Obama did warn Rivlin, in a friendly way of course, that the U.S. might find it tough to continue blocking anti-Israeli moves at the UN:

“Kerry returned without any answers (from his recent visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah). I don’t know if we can continue to block them (international community) because we can’t promise them anything…what will we tell them?”

Obama’s warning insinuates that the onus will be on Israel. For his part, Israel’s President was wise in praising Obama for his support of Israel and for declaring ‘Israel is not at war with Islam!’

Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, does have a knack for ‘calling them as he sees them’, and he took a pot shot at America’s policy toward Daesh in Syria. Speaking at the Saban Forum in Washington, Yaalon said Russia has moved into the vacuum created by America’s low profile in the military campaign:

“Unfortunately, in the present situation Russia is playing the most significant role, then the United States. We don’t like the fact that King Abdullah of Jordan is going to Moscow, Egyptians are going to Moscow, and the Saudis are going to Moscow. And we believe the United States can’t sit on the fence. If you sit on the fence the vacuum is filled, and Syria is an example whether by Iran or the Shiite axis supported now by Russia or Daesh.”

Yaalon, a former IDF Chief of Staff, stated that Daesh could not be defeated without boots on the ground. But he was not referring to American combat troops, but to the empowering of local boots on the ground, mainly the Sunnis and also the Kurds.

But Yaalon is probably aware that Obama is only interested in sending a very small number of American advisers. They will have no real role. This is likely to be the state of affairs until January 2017, when Obama leaves office.

Prof. Eyal Zisser, a prominent Israeli expert on Syria, had this advice in an article entitled ‘Obama’s Liquidation Sale’:

“The Americans are repeating their past mistakes. For the campaign against Daesh they have now abandoned the lead to Russian hands, and, in effect, they are enabling the revival of the axis of evil – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah… In light of the American absence in the region and Obama’s current liquidation sale, the Russians have hired Iran as their sub-contractor. This clearly poses a challenge to Israel, and Jerusalem would do well to formulate an overall strategy to cope with the new reality in the region.”

Arrow III bull’s eye in space…

Another indication of better relations with the Obama administration was the successful launch of the Arrow III, developed mainly by Israel Aerospace with some input from Boeing. The U.S. helped finance the project that is designed to intercept ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. The Arrow flew straight as its namesake and knocked out an incoming target missile at an altitude above the atmosphere. Several more tests will be conducted before the system goes into production. Israel now has a four-layered system for intercepting missiles: Iron Dome for short range of up to 42 miles, David’s Sling for 120 miles, Arrow II for longer range, and Arrow III for ballistic missiles for up to 1500 miles.

Hopefully, a nuclear warhead would explode in space over Iran. The idea is that Arrow III will go fully operational before Iran tries to break out for nuclear weapons. And this is why most Israelis are able to sleep at nights, although most people believe the ayatollahs will one day give the order to break out. Israeli experts have said that the Iranians have acquired the technology over the years, while the U.S. and the rest of the world were in denial. The IAEA has now vindicated Israel’s position, that the Iranians were conducting nuclear weapons research at least until 2009. But who cares?

Israel & Donald Trump…

Netanyahu was right to ‘reject’ Donald Trump’s idea about banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. At the same time, he was ready to see Trump in Jerusalem. More than anyone, Bibi knows it is not in Israel’s interest to get involved in anything that could be construed as interfering in the U.S. presidential election campaign. The 30-or-so Knesset Members who called on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting in protest should remember that Israel is now the target of the BDS movement. Moreover, Israel is a democratic state with a population comprised of 20% Muslims. Jerusalem also has peace accords with Muslim Egypt and Jordan, and is now in the process of developing new ties with other Muslim states in the region. Fortunately, Trump has resolved the headache by canceling his trip to Israel, saying that after he is elected president he will see Netanyahu. So far, Trump’s preposterous proposal has not caused him to plummet in the polls. Surprisingly, he is still the Republicans’ front-runner for the nomination.

It can be said that Obama bears some of the responsibility, as does French Prime Minister Francois Hollande, for the recent election victory of Marine Le Pen of the far Right Front National. By failing to adopt adequate security measures after previous terror attacks, the two leaders have opened the door to a severe backlash by angry and fearful citizens. The primary objective of a democratic government is to protect its citizens. It is unconscionable that some citizens can machine gun or blow up other citizens in protest to… whatever. And if they are doing it in the name of Islam, how can it not be called Islamic or Muslim terrorism?

Failing to call a spade a spade will not solve a deteriorating situation. On the contrary, both Obama and Hollande should meet urgently with representatives of America’s Muslim citizens and agree on temporary emergency regulations. It is also to the Muslims’ benefit that they be seen by fellow citizens as supporting active steps to monitor Muslim terror suspects. Saying that ‘it is very regrettable and not Islamic to slaughter their fellow citizens’ will not suffice. If this is not done swiftly, the situation will get worse before it gets better.

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