The US and Israel: Classic crisis management (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Dan Margalit 08/02/12)
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Classic crisis management — that is the best way to describe the
current situation between the U.S. and Israel over the Iranian
nuclear issue. Under this broad definition, the administration of
President Barack Obama is working to keep Israel very satisfied in an
effort to compete with the harsh criticism leveled at the president
by his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. The Iranian issue is the
central part of this story.
By and large, Romney went much further than any presidential
candidate has ever gone, and while standing in Jerusalem, proclaimed
it Israel´s capital. Obama does not want to, nor can he, speak out in
this way. But he does hold the national checkbook and has just added
$70 million to the Iron Dome program so that Defense Minister Ehud
Barak can declare that security links between the two countries have
never been better.
The situation is at once both comfortable and embarrassing. Thomas
Friedman in The New York Times on Tuesday claimed that Romney´s
support of Israel was harmful in its effusiveness, though this
position cannot be separated from the columnist´s support of Obama.
Basically, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen to be close to
Romney, and Barak took it upon himself to open up to the serving
president, Obama, and so the varied positions displayed by the prime
minister and defense minister look to be classic risk management.
This is a vital part of crisis management when the parties do not
know what will happen next and what the outcome will be.
The Obama administration has more to lose in the battle for the
American Jewish vote since the natural tendency of most of American
Jews is to vote Democrat. In this context, the Iranian issue is
critical. And thus there is now a constant stream of visits to Israel
by senior Obama administration officials. All come with the same
message — Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. The message is trust
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is an intelligent and warm man
with a sense of humor and experience, who virtually gave his own
personal word on this matter to President Shimon Peres on Wednesday.
But Panetta´s really important talks were with Netanyahu and Barak.
The impression given to the casual observer is that both sides were
practically reciting their texts by heart, and while they may believe
the words, they know that the time for putting words into practice is
not yet at hand. The fact is, there is certainly truth in Netanyahu´s
comments that the sanctions have not yet managed to slow down the
Iranian nuclear program. Perhaps the first crack will soon appear,
and perhaps the new round of sanctions approved by Obama will be the
straw that breaks the back of the ayatollahs’ atomic camel. But so
far, there haven´t been any results. So where is America headed?
Barak has managed to get the phrase "zone of immunity" included in
the nuclear lexicon, a term that refers to the point at which Iran´s
facilities would be protected underground from an Israeli military
strikes. The U.S. has far more efficient means to deal with the
Iranian nuclear program, and Barak hinted that it would be a good
idea to give Israel access to such means.
Obama cannot expect Israel to commit to not taking any action before
the November elections. Netanyahu won´t promise that, even if he
wants to. Even if until November it is just a dry run, Israel must
give the impression that the winds of war are billowing through the
Middle East. Panetta heard, and he probably also understood.
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