In the run up to the January 20th presidential inauguration, Barack Obama, under pressure from peace activists aghast at the death toll from Israel’s invasion of Gaza, recited a mantra: there is only one president at a time; we respect that George Bush is president and we will not intercede. But behind the scenes, Sy Hersh reported that Obama urged Israel to end the war before the inauguration. For obvious reasons, he did not want the dead of Gaza staring down on the festivities.
Hersh also notes that Dick Cheney’s hardline Israeli sources complained about Obama’s manuverings, thus angering the warrior vice-president, who warned the Israelis that Obama was “pro-Palestinian.” There apparently was little Cheney could do.
Israeli embassy officials apparently didn’t buy Obama’s demurral regarding the Gaza fighting. A confidential source reports to me that during the war (which began in December 2008, a month before Obama became president), the Israeli embassy provided regular written briefings for Obama and his staff aimed at presenting Israel’s side of the war. An Obama staffer reportedly reassured a top Israeli diplomat, according to my source, that Obama did not wish to intervene in the fighting or the political debate before he became president. The former reminded the diplomat of Obama’s statement of solidarity with Israel under rocket attack, which he delivered in Sderot during the presidential campaign. The statement had delighted pro-Israel activists, but distressed peace activists since it had not acknowledged the similar (in fact much greater) suffering of Gazans in the same period.
While on the one hand, one can look at this intrusive behavior on Israel’s part as par for the course in the political-diplomatic free-for-all that is Washington, DC, I find it hard to imagine, say, the British embassy providing multiple written briefings to an American president during the Falklands War. Wouldn’t you think that was why your president had a foreign policy and national security team? Why would you need to be jawboned by a foreign government?
All I can say is that if Hersh’s report is true and Obama DID attempt to ratchet down the Gaza violence before the inauguration, more power to him. It would show that his staff were doing little more than humoring the Israeli embassy staff by accepting the briefings.