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The US and Israel: Classic crisis management (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Dan Margalit 08/02/12)Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=2339 Israel Hayom Israel Hayom Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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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