The Anti-Israel President?
Author Dan Senor wrote that Mr. Obama “has built the most consistently one-sided diplomatic record against Israel of any American president in generations.” Columnist Caroline Glick suggested that Mr. Obama “is the most hostile US president Israel has ever faced.” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.” Likud MK Danny Danon went as far as saying that “Barack Hussein Obama adopted Yasser Arafat’s staged plan for Israel’s destruction.”
The problem is that these judgments were all interpretations of Mr. Obama’s rhetoric. True, this administration has had its rhetorical spats with the Netanyahu government. Mr. Obama’s critics may have blown these spats out of proportion, but I am not looking to apologize here. Rhetoric is a small aspect of a president’s foreign policy. You also need to look at actual policy.
In my opinion, when judged by its concrete achievements, this presidency is in fact among the most favorable to Israel in history.
Here is why:
The US provides Israel with about $3 billion in military aid every year, by far the largest package given to any American ally. On top of that, in May 2010, Mr. Obama asked Congress to give Israel a $205 million gift for the Iron Dome project.
Mr. Obama also approved a sale of F-35 fighter aircraft to Israel, announced in August 2010, which is critical to Israel’s continued qualitative military edge. The Bush administration long held back such a sale.
American officials also revealed in September 2011 that the Obama administration has been secretly supplying Israel with bunker-busting bombs since 2009. Israel had sought these bombs from the Bush administration for years with no success.
The US and Israel have also dramatically increased their military coordination. In October 2009, they held their largest-ever joint air defense exercise, Juniper Cobra. The two-and-a-half-week exercise involved over 2,000 personnel from both countries. An even larger air defense exercise with about 5,000 personnel is now in its planning stages for early next year. Several joint infantry exercises held in Israel over the last two years were also unprecedented in scale. (See Levinson, Charles. “US, Israel Build Military Cooperation.” The Wall Street Journal 14 Aug. 2010.)
In March 2011, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified to the House Appropriations Committee as follows: “In terms of concrete steps to improve the security relationship between the two countries, more has been done in the last two years than in any comparable period in my entire career.”
Mr. Obama also has a strong record in the War on Terror. An expanded Predator drone program has eliminated thousands of terrorists in six Muslim countries. Mr. Obama also personally oversaw a mission in which special forces shot Osama bin Laden point-blank in his bedroom. These last examples are not directly related to Israel—just too impressive to not mention.
The Iranian Threat
You don’t hear about it much in Mr. Obama’s rhetoric as president, though he was adamant about it during his 2008 campaign: “The world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks show that organizing international sanctions against Iran was a top priority of the new administration’s foreign policy in 2009.
For example, in September 2009 the administration scrapped the plans for building a missile defense site in Poland. Russia had strongly opposed those plans, and the US apparently canceled them as a quid pro quo for Russia’s cooperation against Iran. Missile defenses were installed around the Middle East instead.
The US pressured China as well. Wikileaks revealed that the US organized a plan for China to buy Saudi oil to reduce its dependence on Iran for energy.
After consistent prodding and deal-making, tough international sanctions were finalized in June 2010. Even Iran’s propaganda-minded leaders acknowledged the sanctions’ hard hit on their economy.
The US also pressured Russia over its agreement to sell S-300 air defense missiles to the Iranians. The missiles would strongly deter a military strike against Iran. The Russians delayed the missiles’ delivery, scheduled for March 2009, because of US pressure. They finally canceled the $800 million sale in September 2010.
All the while, the US and Israel have fought an intense covert war against Iran’s nuclear program. Multiple Iranian scientists have defected or been assassinated. Industrial equipment imported to Iran has turned out to be defective. Mysterious explosions have beset Iranian pipelines.
The most effective tactic of all was Stuxnet, an unprecedented cyberattack launched in spring 2010 that probably set the Iranian program back by years. Its development required extraordinary intelligence cooperation between the US and Israel. Reports say that Mr. Obama sped up the program. (See Broad, William J., John Markoff, and David E. Singer. “Israeli Test Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Setback.” The New York Times 16 Jan. 2011: A1.)
But despite the sanctions and sabotage, Iran remains fixated on building a bomb. The military option is still on the table. A congressional hearing on Iran in October 2011 mentioned contingency plans for attacking Iran, reportedly approved by Mr. Obama.
The US led a behind-the-scenes campaign that got Israel accepted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a forum of wealthy democracies, in May 2010. “This will bring Israel billions,” said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Israel has also long relied on the US to protect it from prejudice in international forums. This has been no different under this president:
The Obama administration opposed the Goldstone report.
The Obama administration boycotted Durban II and Durban III.
The Obama administration defended Israel’s nuclear program from condemnation by the International Atomic Energy Agency in September 2010.
The Obama administration vetoed a UN resolution on Israel’s settlements in February 2011—even though the White House agreed with the draft—because it unfairly singled out Israel.
Throughout autumn 2011, the US led an aggressive diplomatic campaign to prevent a vote at the UN Security Council to approve a Palestinian application for membership (which the US would veto anyway if need be). The campaign succeeded and the Palestinian Authority fell short of getting the nine votes it needed. Then, as mandated by US law, the Obama administration cut funding to UNESCO after it admitted Palestine as a member state.
Of course, the policies of a US president are far from the only factor that determines the course of events in the Middle East. But the results of this administration’s diplomacy compare rather favorably with those of its predecessor:
During the Bush administration we had the Second Intifada, the eviction of all Jews from Gaza, the Second Lebanon War, the Gaza War, the miring of American forces in Iraq, the rise of Iranian hegemony, and the spread of Islamic terror around the globe. During the Obama administration we have had relative peace and prosperity in Israel (key word: relative), Iran’s influence has declined, Al Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated, and the Arab world is starting to hold its dictators accountable.
Differences on Peace
There is no denying the tension between the US and Israeli governments over the peace process. This tension came to a head in March 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel ended disastrously. Mr. Netanyahu was snubbed soon after at the White House, according to disputed reports. The Obama administration also pressured Israel into a ten-month settlement freeze that lasted from November 2009 to September 2010, in a failed effort to start peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly insisted that “friends are going to disagree sometimes.” But do these incidents betray Mr. Obama’s ultimate lack of friendship toward Israel nonetheless?
As I see it, if Mr. Obama were an Israeli politician, his visions for the peace process would fit right in with Kadima, Israel’s largest political party. Anything I have ever heard Mr. Obama say about Israel would sound perfectly natural coming from the mouth of Israeli President Shimon Peres. That is why Mr. Obama sometimes grates against the Likud government in power; his policies are still clearly pro-Israel.
Most Israelis see it that way too. A poll by Keevoon Research and The Jerusalem Post in September 2011 found that 54 percent of Jewish Israelis see Mr. Obama’s policies as favoring Israel, compared to 19 percent who see his policies as favoring the Palestinians.
There is plenty about Mr. Obama’s Middle East policy that we can criticize. I doubt that these criticisms outweigh his concrete accomplishments. But at the very least, with US-Israel cooperation at an all-time high, we ought to be grateful when gratitude is due.