Much of the U.S. media that’s written about Pres. Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel (next month) has focused on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This narrative says Obama is coming to jump-start negotiations or reaffirm his commitment to finding common ground between the parties.
While Galey Tzahal reports (Hebrew and English summary here) Bibi’s remarks indicating the president is coming to discuss the Palestinians, Syria and Iran; it makes clear that Iran is the 800 lb. gorilla on this trip:
Netanyahu had indicated during his UN speech that Spring 2013 was a key date. Obama fears that Bibi will attack Iran now that he’s backed by a new government and security cabinet of which Dan Meridor and Benny Begin are no longer members.
Obama decided to come to Israel and say: ‘Don’t attack Iran. Let me make contacts with the Iranians on my own terms. If there is a need, I will act against them. We have the ability, you don’t.
Obama is also coming [later in March] because he doesn’t want to welcome Netanyahu to Washington at the Aipac conference. The White House fears that Bibi would exploit this opportunity to give a bellicose speech about Iran.
Yediot Achronot’s lead story makes this even more clear:
Obama will reaffirm that he expects Jerusalem with cooperate with the effort to read a diplomatic solution with Iran.
Given that Obama is scheduled to spend a mere 2 hours with Mahmoud Abbas and the PA found out about the trip from media reports and not from direct contact with the White House, it seems extremely unlikely that the Palestinians are the fish Obama wants to fry. Which is unfortunate, because whatever the trip’s purpose, there can’t be one that would further regional stability more than resolving this conflict.
The Israeli stories confirm that Obama is coming to Israel for one main reason: Iran. Bibi Netanyahu is putting together a new governing coalition. Many of the senior figures in the last security cabinet lost their seats for their supposedly over-moderate views. They were opponents of an Iran strike. They stopped Bibi from attacking at least once and possibly more times in his last term. Obama doesn’t know what Bibi has in store this time round. Will he appoint security ministers who want to go to war?
Obama is concerned enough about this possibility that he intends to come to Israel personally to tell the political leadership and Israeli people that there should be no war against Iran. At least not till he decides there should be (a small consolation to Iranians). He’s not going to put it that way: what he’s going to say is let us handle it. One might argue that the President has already told Bibi this during his previous visits to Washington. The difference is Obama has never spoken directly to the Israeli people. He reckons, rightly so, that they’re on his side (as public opinion surveys show Israelis opposed to a unilateral Israeli attack) and not on Bibi’s on this one.
Obama wants to avoid the sort of drama that ensued last year when Obama addressed the Aipac conference just after Bibi had done so. In that case, they had dueling speeches that showed the level of disagreement between them on Iran. In this sense, Obama is coming to tell Bibi what’s “the program” and that he, the President, is the one writing it, not Bibi.
The Israeli prime minister is famously prickly and I doubt he will take direction on an issue so close to his political heart as this one. But Obama will try. I’m betting that Bibi is starting to perspire in anticipation of this visit. In previous visits, it was Bibi invading Obama’s home turf. And Bibi was not a polite guest. He went over Obama’s head, trying to argue in effect that he didn’t need the president on this issue, since the Congress and American people were on his, and Israel’s side.
Being a deft student of political drama, Obama is going to be very cognizant of turning the tables on Netanyahu. It is he who can now go over Bibi’s head and appeal to the Israeli people that war against Iran is a very bad idea. Given what polls say, he will have very receptive audience. Obama’s eloquence will only sell the pitch and seal the deal more firmly. Few Israelis like Netanyahu personally. But most say he’s a terrific political tactician. But Bibi hasn’t met Barack yet on such terms. I’d venture to say he’s going to run rings around Bibi on this trip.
That being said, I still believe Obama’s passivity on the Palestinian issue is inexcusable both politically and morally. I don’t see anything productive coming from this trip regarding that.
There is an infinitesimal chance that the president, having shed his passivity toward the GOP in both his inauguration and State of the Union speeches, may be prepared to do the same regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He may come to tell Bibi that the free ride is over. That Israel can no longer count on U.S. backing in the UN and elsewhere in stymieing the Palestinians. I wouldn’t hold my breath. But miracles do happen.
Obama is too much a “gentleman” or political stategist for his 2nd term to initiate displeasure in Jerusalem. I’m sure the Secret Service has spend time on reconnaissance of a nice restaurant for the evening meal a walking distance from the Netanyahu residence. President Shimon Peres will return a favor and award Obama the Presidential Medal of Distinction. I do agree the priorities of visit lie on (1) Iran sanctions and nuclear issue and (2) the Syrian turmoil and instability with risk of proliferation of chemical weapons.
In past 12 months I have written many diaries on the relationship Netanyahu and Obama. Obama his already threatened Netanyahu in the fall of 2012 about going alone and strike Iran. The Israeli Air Force is not capable to carry the bunker buster bombs and are limited in causing damage to the Iranian nuclear facilities hidden in the mountains.
On the Palestinian issue and the Middle-East foreign policy, Obama relied too much on Hillary Clinton and her neocon advisors from the past. The new appointments of Kerry-Brennan-Hagel will be more in line to what Obama needs to achieve. The battle in US Congress is basically a last Republican stand to prevent change from the old regime of pacifying AIPAC and Israeli politicians. The discussion in Jerusalem on US foreign policy by rising-star Marco Rubio was not only sad but laughable at its shallowness.
The visit to Israel is one great PR show of the bond between the USA and Israel, the logo publication is just one indication. It will be an encouraging sign if there is little publication about the next peace initiative and the development could be measured by increased anger within the hard-core settler community.
Political Gain and the Spoils of 1967 War
Do you expect Obama to raise concern about Golan Heights drilling and West Bank shale exploration? Most interesting a line-up of America’s Who Is Who in support of Genie Energy and Effie Efraim: Howard Jonas – Jacob Rothschild – Rupert Murdoch – Dick Cheney – Michael Steinhardt (son of Sol Frank “Red” Steinhardt).
My sources tell me that actually Bibi and the Palestinians have agreed to restart land for peace talk and Bibi has agreed to quietly freeze the settlements.
The most recent IAEA report on Iran was not good. Obama may end up making a speech analogous to other speeches made in other ally countries during the cold war and signal that a nuclear attack against Israel will be seen as an attack against the US and result in a nuclear counter attack. It is the beginning of a shift from preventing Iran from getting nukes to containment.
Does not sound like a good arrangement for israel.
Obama: ” don’t worry if they nuke Tel Aviv Metro we will light up Teheran ”
Bibi : if they nuke Tel Aviv and in response to your attack they nuke Jerusalem? ”
Obama : ” we will attack Isfahan. Remember they won’t do it. This successful cold war policy is called MAD which stands for mutually assured destruction.”
Bibi: ” Yes that is why I am concerned, uh you know about the mutually assured destruction part. :
Obama: “don’t worry ,trust me”
Bibi: ” Betach”
Bob Mann says
You wrote: “Few Israelis like Netanyahu personally”
On what do you base that assessment?
Haaretz poll: Netanyahu’s popularity soaring following Washington trip
I think the above shows that more than a few Israelis like Netanyahu personally.
With respect to Obama visiting Israel, is there anything you would like him to say with respect to Iran? Or do you think he really ought to speak about the Palestinian issue only?
Popular? But not trusted in recent poll.
(JPost) – The poll found that Yesh Atid would win 30 Knesset seats, Likud Beytenu 22, Bayit Yehudi 15, Labor 13. Netanyahu also fared poorly when respondents were asked which politicians they trusted, but not quite as badly as his new coalition partner, Tzipi Livni. Sixty-five percent said they did not trust Netanyahu and 31% said they did. When asked about Livni, 69% said they did not trust her and 27% said they did.
Bob Mann says
“Yesh Atid would crush Likud in new election”
Wow – that is amazing.
Are you use that is not a Purim story?
Dr. Ibrahim Soudy says
I have listened to the analysis provided in the article by Richard when he delivered it in person during a panel discussion in Seattle last Thursday. The panel included an Iranian American and another activist about the Iran issue. I find it kind of interesting that Richard thinks that the president of the ONLY REMAINING SUPERPOWER in the world would need to go to beg the Israelis to stop their prime minister from doing something stupid…..The US president needs to play headgames with “Bibi” and hope that the very wise citizens there will put pressure on him to be reasonable…………..Can anybody tell me what future The Appartheid Jewish State would have if it were not for the unqualified support from the US? Does any one think that an Israeli politician, however irrational, would dare go against the will of America especially when it comes to something that will have a devastating impact on America?!…..
As I commented during the question period after the panel on Thursday, The Zionists are NOT interested in attacking Iran but they are far more interested in keepng and increasing the brutal economic sanctions for years and years to come. This will destroy the very fabric and infrastructure of Iran. That will set Iran back by many many years and that is what the Zionists are aiming for. That is actually more guranteed and more feasible to them than a military strike that will not achieve much if any.
Dear Dr. Soudi,
Richard is a zionist. FYI.
Richard Silverstein says
There are Zionists and there are Zionists. I am not the same Zionist Soudy was referring to who wants to demonize Iran.
Dr. Soudi post refers to zionists and does not seem to differentiate between good ones and bad ones.
I would love for him to tell us what a good zionist is.
Richard Silverstein says
Stay on topic and do not encourage others to stray off topic. The issue of who is a good Zionist or a bad one is off topic.
Zionism (Hebrew: ציונות, Tsiyonut) is a form of nationalism of Jews and Jewish culture that supports a Jewish nation state in the territory defined as the Land of Israel. from wikipedia.
There is nothing about Iran in Zionism.
Richard Silverstein says
That is NOT an accurate definition of Zionism. But the subject once again is off topic.
How can my post be off topic again and that of Dr. Soudy be on topic? Are you saying that Dr. Soudy can be on topic and comment on what zionists (including you) want but that the definition of zionism would be off topic? Again, as I have said it before it would be very useful if all people who comment here state what they would see as a good solution of the conflict. I am still waiting to hear from Dr. Soudy. You state you want a to help the dialogue. I am trying to do my best to help us all achieve an honest discussion.
Richard Silverstein says
Not only is it NOT a good idea for all people who comment here to outline a good solution to the conflict, that’s off topic, & I have no interest in that happening. Again, if you don’t like these rules there are many other places where you can find a more suitable venue for your style or interests. When you’re here, you follow my comment rules whether you like them or not.
Your complaining about my treatment of Ibrahim Soudy reminds me of my three children who, when I ask one to do a household chore, whines about the others who I haven’t asked.
What makes you say that the real goal of the Zionists is to keep the brutal economic sanctions against Iran going?
If that’s the case why be worried about Israel attacking Iran? It would make more sense
Israel cares about the social fabric of Iran?
Israel would be very happy with a peaceful cessation of all relations and contacts with Iran directly or via proxy. It would be like neither country would exist for each other in Amy way shape or fashion.
If that could be garunteed Israel would close the door on any and all issues vis a vis Iran.
As this is the night of the holiday of Purim may we all one day be able to visit Isfahan freely and visit the tomb of Mordechai (morduk) which is held in reverence by both the local Muslim and Jewish communities.
Too simple; Israel can’t function in its current form without a threat to its existence, real or fabricated. The Palestinians aren’t a threat, Hezbollah won’t strike first, leaving only Iran…
Hizbollah is a subsidiary of Iran. All pluralistic open societies made of immigrants do better wuth a commom external threat. Closed homogenous societies dont need that and instead suffer from lack of diversity.
I think the analogy between Nananyahu in the US and Obama in Israel is very limited. Nananyahu used to live in the US, speaks perfect English and is intimately familiar with the US society, culture and politics. He has a firm constituency in the US not only within the Jewish community but also with many conservatives but also among democrats. Obama is a novice in Israel, and ha no constituency among Jewish Israelis to speak of (and I am not sure about the Arabs).
Many Israelis share Obama’s concerns about an attack on Iran, his desire to advance two-state solution, his dislike of the occupation, and even his dislike for Natanyahu. But they do not like been lectured on issues so critical to their survival, and if he even indirectly criticises Natanyahu, this may rally people around their leader. The current landscape after the inconclusive election is particularly confusing, and in my view there is little prospect that Obama will be able to navigate it carefully.
And if Obama wants to blackmail Israeli government into submission, this could be easily done across the Atlantic. No need to come to Israel and undermine forces that agree with him on many issues.
Foreign policy and peace process was hardly mentioned in the last election.
Israelis voted on issue of economy and social issues.
Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi the new winners are more right oriented in terms of peace and foreign policy.
Correct. And yet the results may have a significant impact on Israel’s security and foreign policy. Appointment of Livni as chief negotiator with the Palestinians is but the first step. I am not sure this will lead anywhere but it is a sign.
Domestic considerations always played an important role in shaping Israel’s security and foreign policy.
Richard Silverstein says
@BorisG: Ah yes, it’s a sign. A sign of bankruptcy. A sign nothing will change. A sign yet another Israeli politician has taken yet another job flattering her ego & vanity, but which will actually do nothing.
Todd Boyle says
I was talking with a friend yesterday and he mentioned reading in the press somewhere that Obama is going to Israel to receive a prize, LOL! Had a good laugh over that.
Richard Silverstein says
That’s right. Shimon Peres is giving him an award.
Alex Illi says
You are right.
Netanjahu probably knows it by now, the House of Saud know it:
They are no longer overly important in Mr. Obama’s equations.
Obama and the US-NATO-empire will not let Israel and Saudi Arabia et al drop completely,
and they will not let it be known officially too soon – they don’t want publicity.
Obama will quietly, step by step, en passant present a fait accompli.
He probably won’t tell Netanjahu in the face in an ultimate gesture – I’ve rarely witnessed Obama recently openly speaking unadultered truth, straight-forwardly.
That is because the priorities have been re-estimated by the US-NATO-strategists to a degree summing up to a geostrategic revolution. But not by being in control of events any more… – they are solely reacting by now, driven:
By the growth of Chinese and other BRICS’s economic and thus potential military might, they can no longer afford the luxury of intricate indirect strategies to finally get at China. They thought they could drive longer-term wedges from “Near East” to Caucasus, Central Asia and Sothern Asia, finally aimed at China and Russia, by destabilisation and arbitrary regime changes like attempted in Syria. But that time has passed –
China is getting too strong, too fast!
(In their hegemonial “survival of the fittest”-worldview, which is, of course, psychopathic, because of total neglectance and underestimation of the potential of cooperation).
The US-NATO-“West” can no longer afford being held up by the seemingly endless hassle presented by impertinent Israeli politicians like Netanjahu. They also no longer feel the overwhelming need to entertain Israeli-politicians’ every whee whims in the long-accustomed manner, because they expect to become much more independant from the “Near East’s” fossile fuels by methods such as fraccing, shale oil, maybe LENR or nuclear fission, if they can avoid proliferation issues as not to give rivals such powers. Furthermore they (US-NATO-GCC-Allies) are on the edge of loosing their active bid for regime change in Syria (their once-perceived “road to Teheran”) due to the unity and moral of the Syrians and due to the threat of loosing credibility even with the credulous about that “revolution”. And finally, they have known since long time that an attack on Iran would overstrain their capacities, especially economically, because they also know it could not be kept contained to so-called ‘surgical strikes’ – it would set the region on fire, at the most least massive long-term occupation forces after an unprecedented war would have to be financed…
So they see no other choice than to switch priorities NOW to more directly tackle China via exaggerating e.g. Japenese Island disputes and North Korean “threats” (shift in the “axis of evil”), alleged “Chinese Cyber Attacks” and Central Asian insurgencies (Uigurs?), or else China will overtake them on the speedlane.
Mr. Silverstein, you have been spot-on many times, and also here, extraordinarily early-on.
I guess for many being Zionist essentially means having relatives in Israel and seeing no possibility of living elsewhere?
Obama will not let Israel drop – due to strategic reasons and maybe because of humanitarian ones, to a certain degree, as well. He will just take away Bibi’s favourite toys en passant – not mainly to humiliate him, but just in pursuit of his new “strategy” – striding away to East Asia- Pacific, he will drag along Bibi’s toy-fantasies – Iran & Greater Israel.
So for All trying to find a way to let themselves, their family, their neighbours, their countries et al live in PEACE in the “Near & Middle East”: I’ld likely expect the dangers rather from desperate measures from Bibi&Co. seeing themselves in angst of being bereaved of their favorite toys and thus power positions. Measures like a direct attack on Syria, as they have invested too heavily in that staged terrorist-“revolution” – if President Assad would stay in power, they would feel phobia of retaliation; if the fanatic “rebels” would win, they might have angst of the former SyrianArabArmies weapons in wrong hands — Israel might attack Syria, with such strange temporary aliies like the GCC and possibly Turkey, because they all would fear the backlash if their schemings there would fail and the US would not come as saving cavalry and furthermore the US would then neither strongly need them anymore nor be interested in their petty near-middle-eastern squabblings, the US-NATOs deperate gaze firmly focused on BRICS with exta capital “C”.
Due to reorientation in global geostrategy there will be some changes in the layout of the Near East coming soon, but neither “West” nor “East” want or can afford too much trouble there, so they would try it as softly as possible – the larger danger there in mid-term might arise from the “Near East”-establishment desperately trying to defend the staus quo or their megalomaniacal fantasies.