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What to Expect From Obama’s Visit

Israeli officials will be very polite in discussions and sarcastic when they talk among themselves afterward.
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Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Israeli officials will be very polite in discussions and sarcastic when they talk among themselves afterward. The two countries’ interests may not clash but their perceptions of how to promote those interests do. The United States will help install in Syria a regime that is likely to be hard-line anti-Israel that might well form an alliance with Egypt and Hamas; try to destabilize Jordan, and give help and weapons to anti-Israel terrorists. That might be an improvement over what exists now but American help to Syrian moderates would have been far preferable. Israel is very much aware of the new danger from Syria.

Egypt: Hopefully there will be some discussion over Egypt. Obama will emphasize that the peace treaty has not been renounced and that the Brotherhood regime is, at least for the moment, blocking the flow of weapons into the Gaza Strip. Israel will say thank you and talk about how this needs to continue and about its worries that the new Egyptian government will get more militant on foreign policy once it entrenches itself in power.

Iran: Presumably, the U.S. delegation and Obama will emphasize their optimism about negotiations with Tehran and express wishful thinking that the June election will result in a more moderate government after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves office. In other words, they will preach hope and patience.

In addition, they will stress that all options are being kept open and that the United States will never accept Iran having nuclear weapons. How the U.S. government is going to stop this is quite unclear. Personally, I don’t believe that Obama will ever attack Iranian nuclear facilities or support such an Israeli operation.

I’m not saying he should do so; I’m just predicting he won’t do so.

There might also be talk about covert operations, perhaps even based on U.S.-Israel cooperation, and intelligence-gathering efforts on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

What’s not clear is how much Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will emphasize the idea of an attack on Iranian facilities. Presumably, he will say that he is happy to give the United States and other Western countries time to try non-military means, including sanctions. He will warn them that negotiations won’t work. He might say something to the effect that Israel will wait out 2013 but when 2014 comes and Iran’s drive continues that would be the moment for a military response.

The reality is, however, that Obama will continue to deny that his strategy is one of containing Iran but rather of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. That will go on until Iran gets nuclear weapons and Obama switches to a containment strategy. It might be too early to discuss–and Israel might not want to do so lest it reduce potential U.S. support for an attack–but it is important to understand that there’s good containment and bad containment. On that point I need say only two words: Chuck Hagel. He is U.S. secretary of defense. Want four more words? John Kerry; John Brennan. They are secretary of state and CIA chief. The problem of terrible ideas meets terrible incompetence.

Just as the issue is not that Obama hasn’t tried hard enough on the “peace process”–he tried, failed, and will fail if he tries again–the issue is not that Obama is “anti-Israel.” The latter problem is that his Arab and Islamist strategy is damaging toward Israel, as it is also to long-term U.S. interests, regional stability, Christians, women, moderates, and others.

Equally, the problem is not that the Obama Administration hasn’t been trying to stop Iran’s nuclear program but that its efforts won’t work and its approach is wasting time. So what comes next?

If the United States is going to end up focusing on containing Iran–stopping it from using nuclear weapons or giving them to terrorists–it better be done well. As for containing Iran strategically, the Egyptian and Syrian revolutions are largely doing that job.

At the end of the meeting, everyone will then state publicly that the talks show the continued strength of the U.S.-Israel alliance and that Obama is a great president and a wonderful friend of Israel. Then Obama will return to Washington to get back to the business of installing or helping anti-Israel Islamist governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey; making sure Israel is never too tough against Hamas in the Gaza Strip; and losing credibility with America’s anti-Islamist Arab and other friends.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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