I have discussed to no small extent on my radio show recently and probably will this week (Thursday 2-4 pm Central on www.macsworldlive.com) the growing concern on the Israeli political left of abandonment by the Obama administration. Aluf Benn's op-ed piece, printed in the NY Times is quite telling. Aluf Benn is Editor at Large of Haaretz. Haaretz is not exactly the most Conservative of papers. Benn himself is a MAJOR lefty.
Many people have asked me why it seems that the Obama administration has no interest in speaking with Israelis, but has no problem speaking directly to Arabs and Muslims. My take is that the administration has no problem upsetting Israelis in order to improve its relations with the Muslim world, and the Arab world in particular. Because there is ZERO chance of any peace agreement being reached with the current Palestinian leadership, there is therefore no concern that Israelis or Palestinians will concern themselves with following by US dictates. In other words, it makes no difference if the US says, "Okay, go ahead and build, we recognize that right" or "Don't build, you'll damage the peace process." The first, upsets the Arab world. The second, upsets the Jewish world. Neither makes a bit of difference if there is no possible solution in the peace process. Thus, if the US goal is to improve relations with the Muslim world, then it might as well go for the second option.
On the other hand, while the peace process is going nowhere, Iran is a vital concern and Israel can derail the entire Obama administration agenda by addressing Iran on its own. The Obama administration has misjudged the situation badly. Israel is far more concerned with Iran than it is with upsetting the US. Israel can strike against Iran, has tremendous support to do so from its Arab neighbors, and in my mind WILL if sanctions do not work SOON. Netanyahu was not elected to stop or slow down the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he was elected to deal with the Iranian threat.
The argument that dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict first will help is beyond ridiculous. The Iranian issue has months, if not weeks, to be addressed before a critical mass is reached. There is no deadline on the I-P front. Worse still for the US is that Israel's Arab allies are in agreement with ISRAEL about addressing Iran FIRST. Egypt is about as supportive of Israeli action against Iran as any Arab government could possibly be. It knows that Iran is supportive of those who threaten the Egyptian leadership, namely Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, and Hamas. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are also supportive of Israel in this respect. The US had to sent Gates to Jordan to address the fact that Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others are NOT in alignment with the US on Iran but ARE with the Netanyahu administration. My belief is that no amount of assurance will assuage them of their concern. They do not fear a nuclear strike from Iran, but increased militant actions within their borders supported by an Iran using nuclear cover to prevent retaliation.
The belief is that thirty years of diplomacy with Iran, sometimes directly, sometimes through other channels, have failed to result in anything other than allowing Iran to strengthen and to export its military strength and fanaticism around the region, causing problems in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Israel and other places in which militant Muslims have received arms and training from Iran. The consequences of Iran continuing these actions under nuclear cover are not pleasant. The thought of having Hamas supported by a nuclear armed Iran will undoubtedly hamper future peace efforts and escalate the threat of any attacks by Hizballah or Hamas against Israel, forcing much more severe Israeli responses to threats. This makes Israeli negotiations with the PA almost laughable. Israel cannot possibly concede anything resembling control over borders under this situation and may even have to increase its current control. Thus, the peace process is on a distant back burner until the Iranian nuclear situation is resolved, not the reverse. One could even argue that Arab nations wanting to make peace with Israel will WAIT until after it strikes Iran to do so, so as to avoid the undoubtedly negative reaction of the Arab street to an Israeli attack and their consequences to their maintaining a new relationship. Better to create one AFTER an attack. Thus, even the Obama administration's push to improve relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors is dependent upon settling the Iranian issue first.
Meanwhile, should Israel decide to strike Iran, US domestic political views will change dramatically. The threat of attacks against the US by Iran will result in a strong shift to the political right, just as has happened in Israel. The economic situation will worsen in the short term, resulting in an inability of the US to address costly social programs and the Obama administration will be faced with years in which foreign policy and defense override its domestic agenda while facing elections in 2010 and 2012 dominated by foreign policy concerns. This should scare the Obama administration into swift action to ease Israeli concerns about Iran and they may well be trying to do exactly that.
The visits of multiple high level US diplomats to the region in recent days are NOT a result of issues relating to the I-P conflict, but a reaction to Israeli fears about Iran and the fact that Israel may just decide that regardless of damage it may suffer to its relationship with the Obama administration and American Jews, the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran is an existential crisis that rises above other concerns. Resolving THAT issue should be far more important to US foreign policy right now than the I-P conflict which as things stand now is impossible to resolve.
I believe that Israelis need both to be addressed directly by President Obama about IRAN in a way that strongly assures them that the US will not ALLOW Iran to acquire nuclear arms and that the administration needs to ratchet up its sanction actions, including pressuring the EU to comply, much faster and much more harshly than it has seemed interested in doing. Without these two actions and prominent Iranian reaction to them by allowing inspection and stopping work obviously connected to nuclear weapons production, not necessarily domestic nuclear power production, I believe that Israeli unilateral action is inevitable and the consequences dreadful.
As someone who wants to see the implementation of a liberal social agenda, including some reasonable form of health care reform, I fear that the opportunity to accomplish it could be lost because of failures of foreign policy during both the Bush administration and this one. We live in a global world. What happens over there affects us here.