That chatter, of course, is all about Iran, Obama and Netanyahu. It would not be possible, or even productive, for me to touch upon everything that is being said.
Broadly, what I am seeing is a considerable degree of agreement regarding Obama’s determination to protect his electoral chances by keeping matters quiet at all costs until the election.
The best of the commentators on this subject that I’ve encountered is Charles Krauthammer in “Obama vs. Israel.” His piece is powerful and terrifying, and must be read (all emphasis added):
“After ostensibly tough talk about preventing Iran from going nuclear, the Obama administration acquiesced this week to yet another round of talks with the mullahs.”
(See “Obama says time for diplomacy, not war”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-says-it-will-allow-inspectors-from-un-nuclear-agency-into-secret-parchin-military-site/2012/03/06/gIQAHRPKuR_story.html )
“This, 14 months after the last group-of-six negotiations collapsed in Istanbul because of blatant Iranian stalling and unseriousness. Nonetheless, the new negotiations will be both without precondition and preceded by yet more talks to decide such trivialities as venue.
“These negotiations don’t just gain time for a nuclear program about whose military intent the International Atomic Energy Agency is issuing alarming warnings. They make it extremely difficult for Israel to do anything about it (while it still can), lest Israel be universally condemned for having aborted a diplomatic solution.
“If the administration were serious about achievement rather than appearance, it would have warned that this was the last chance for Iran to come clean and would have demanded a short timeline. After all, President Obama insisted on deadlines for the Iraq withdrawal, the Afghan surge and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Why leave these crucial talks open-ended when the nuclear clock is ticking?
“This re-engagement comes immediately after Obama’s campaign-year posturing about Iran’s nukes. Speaking Sunday in front of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), he warned that ‘Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States’…
“Won’t sanctions make a difference this time, however? Sanctions are indeed hurting Iran economically. But when Obama’s own director of national intelligence was asked by the Senate intelligence committee whether sanctions had any effect on the course of Iran’s nuclear program, the answer was simple: No. None whatsoever.
“Obama garnered much AIPAC applause by saying that his is not a containment policy but a prevention policy. But what has he prevented? Keeping a coalition of six together is not prevention. Holding talks is not prevention. Imposing sanctions is not prevention.
“Prevention is halting and reversing the program. Yet Iran is tripling its uranium output, moving enrichment facilities deep under a mountain near Qom and impeding IAEA inspections of weaponization facilities.
“So what is Obama’s real objective? ‘We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel,’ an administration official told The Post in the most revealing White House admission since ‘leading from behind.‘”
Let’s stop and rewind here for a minute: A White House official told Krauthammer that they are trying to make the decision to attack Iran as difficult as possible for Israel. Anyone reading this want to make the case for Obama as a friend of Israel?
“Revealing and shocking. The world’s greatest exporter of terror (according to the State Department), the systematic killer of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the self-declared enemy that invented ‘Death to America Day’ is approaching nuclear capability — and the focus of U.S. policy is to prevent a democratic ally threatened with annihilation from preempting the threat?
“…The new open-ended negotiations with Iran fit well with this strategy of tying Israel down. As does Obama’s ‘I have Israel’s back” reassurance, designed to persuade Israel and its supporters to pull back and outsource to Obama what for Israel are life-and-death decisions.
“Yet 48 hours later, Obama says at a news conference that this phrase is just a historical reference to supporting such allies as Britain and Japan — contradicting the intended impression he’d given AIPAC that he was offering special protection to an ally under threat of physical annihilation.
“To AIPAC he…affirms ‘Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions . . . to meet its security needs.’
“And then he pursues policies…meant, as his own official admitted, to stop Israel from exercising precisely that sovereign right to self-protection.
“Yet beyond these obvious contradictions and walk-backs lies a transcendent logic:…Obama wants to get past Nov. 6 without any untoward action that might threaten his reelection.
“For Israel, however, the stakes are somewhat higher: the very existence of a vibrant nation and its 6 million Jews. The asymmetry is stark. A fair-minded observer might judge that Israel’s desire to not go gently into the darkness carries higher moral urgency than the political future of one man, even if he is president of the United States.”
I would suggest that, as correct as Krauthammer surely is, there may be an additional reason why Obama is taking his duplicitous position. This one has to do with internal politics: Still with regard to the election, but here, vis-a-vis his potential contenders.
To a person, the Republican candidates are criticizing Obama as weak and indecisive in his dealings with Iran. It seems to me that he had to respond to them, attempting to present a picture of himself as the one who was taking the “wiser action,” being cautious not to respond military too soon.
In yet another sense, I see him playing both ends against the middle: If Israel attacks before the election and it goes well, he can point out to Jewish Americans that, see, he had acknowledged Israel’s right to self-defense; he was with Israel all along. If there are repercussions (never mind that such repercussions pale in the face of the consequences of not acting), he can point out that it was out of his hands, but that he was really in favor of delaying action.
Evidence — or, better said, additional evidence — of Obama’s lack of seriousness regarding stopping Iran can be seen in a Times of Israel piece on March 7, that speaks of Congressional intention to close the loopholes in sanctions by targeting all Iranian banks. This, says the report is “part of a sweeping effort to push the Obama administration to squeeze the Islamic republic’s economy further…lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate soon would introduce bipartisan legislation compelling the Obama administration to expand US sanctions.”
What is going on, we might ask, that the Obama administration must be “compelled” in this respect?
A report from the LA Times paints an even grimmer picture of Obama’s approach. For “senior officials familiar with US intelligence and spying capabilities in Iran” have doubts about whether US satellites, sensors and spies will know when Iran has “crossed a red line,” as the Obama administration contends. That is, in being “cautious,” they might wait too long.
Of course, there is endless speculation as to whether Netanyahu will cross Obama and order that attack before November 6. What does seem clear is that there are no illusions: Netanyahu knows full well with whom he’s dealing.
I persist in my conviction that at the end of it all, he will have the courage to do what must be done. Because he understands all too well the horrendous stakes involved and the consequences of not acting. One way or the other, we’ll see soon enough.
The question that remains is When? I certainly have no answer on this. But I do believe too much is being made of Netanyahu’s failure to be more specific as to timing. This is being interpreted as indecision (as Netanyahu is said to be indecisive). But what is being ignored is the fact that if and when he decides to act, the appropriate stance will be vagueness as to timing. He is not going to make a general announcement in advance, now, is he?
On Thursday night, in TV interviews, the prime minister said that an attack would not come immediately, but is not years away, either. He acknowledged the fact that Israel and the US are on different timetables, and he indicated that he didn’t think going ahead would irrevocably damage Israeli-US relations.
As to When… from a couple of different reports I’ve picked up information indicating that Obama may have promised Netanyahu additional bunker busters, possibly as well as equipment to facilitate re-fueling in the air. Those bunker busters, if the correct type, might conceivably open a bit wider our window of opportunity for attacking.
Meanwhile, we are at war in the south, even if the situation is not identified as such.
On Friday afternoon, the Israeli Air Force killed Zuhair al-Kaisi, the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, by bombing his car.
Along with him in his car, and also killed, was a terrorist who had been released in the Shalit trade. See this article in which an IDF officer expresses concern about an increased involvement in terrorism by those released in the Shalit deal: http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=261365 .
The attack on al-Kaisi was initiated because intelligence indicated that he was planning a terrorist attack similar to the one near the Sinai border that killed eight Israelis last August. Not certain that they would be able to stop the attack, which might have been initiated via infiltration into Israel at any point along that border, the IDF decided to pre-empt it.
A barrage of rockets from Gaza then began in response to this — something that was not unexpected. By now more than 130 rockets have been launched; most have been Kassams, fired by the PRC, but including 25 more accurate and longer-range Grad Katyushas, fired by Islamic Jihad.
Several people have been hospitalized in Israel as a result of the attacks — none seriously wounded, and some for shock. Schools within a range of 40 km. from the border with Gaza have been closed and more than 200,000 Israeli school children are home. Many in the south — some million people — are hunkered down in shelters.
A school in Beersheva was hit by a Grad, but it was empty.
The Air Force has hit 13 different rocket crews as they were preparing to launch rockets, aborting those launchings and killing 16 Palestinian Arabs.
Egypt is attempting to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas, but PRC and Islamic Jihad are resisting. It is anticipated that this will continue for some days yet, but the IDF, at least at present, is not planning a ground operation.
The big success during the current round of rocket attacks has been the three Iron Dome rocket defense batteries, operating in Beersheva, Ashkelon and Ashdod. When the batteries have been operated against incoming rockets, they have been successful 90% of the time, even intercepting barrages of five and six rockets at a time that were headed for populated areas. A fourth battery is due to be brought into the area shortly.
But with all this, we have nothing to worry about. For tomorrow the Quartet is meeting at the UN to discuss ways to move ahead the “stalled peace talks.” Surreal. But I report it as it comes to me. Apparently Russia was pushing for this.
Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel will not participate in any talks as long as “unity” between the PA and Hamas is a possibility.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.