A certain level of tension between even the most supportive American governments and Israel is probably inevitable, as no two governments have identical interests on every issue or evaluate those interests in the same fashion. But relations between the Obama administration and Israel (not just Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) can no longer be dismissed as the occasional quibbling of two happily married spouses.
Ha'aretz reported last week that President Obama has convened his top foreign policy advisors to consider whether and in what form sanctions should be imposed on Israel for its building in east Jerusalem. Now, the fact that Ha'aretz reported something does not make it true. It could be – indeed it likely is – that the administration was testing to see what impact such a leak would have on the political fortunes of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the upcoming elections. And if so, the 'testing" no doubt came back that such a move would only improve Netanyahu's electoral changes, particularly when a recent poll found that Israelis by a margin of nearly 3:1 do not view Obama as a friend of the Jewish state.
Be that as it may, the really interesting thing about the Ha'aretz report is that neither White House press secretary Josh Earnest nor the State Department's Jen Paski initially felt any inclination to deny the report and to reaffirm (as they always to in such situations) the United States undiminished commitment to Israel's security. (On Monday, Earnest did deny the repott, while stating that the United States will continue to vigorously oppose Israel's settlement building, including in east Jerusalem.) The second point of interest is that few dismissed the report out of hand as inconsistent with the known facts about President Obama's feelings for Israel.
It should be noted that the same week that rumors flew of sanctions by the Obama administration against Israel, the U.S. Congress passed a bill conferring a unique status on Israel for the sharing of defense technologies and information. So the conflict with Israel is confined to the executive branch and not the legislative branch.
SINCE THE OUTSET OF LAST SUMMER'S FIFTY DAY GAZA WAR, there has been a steady stream of anti-Israel rhetoric and actions from the Obama administration. In the middle of the war, the administration stopped the resupply to Israel of Hellfire air to surface missiles. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the administration did not outright deny the request, it simply refused to allow the resupply to go through the customary channels via the U.S. European command, and introduced a new level of bureaucratic oversight that resulted in the missiles arriving a month after the ceasefire ending the fighting.
In the same vein, the administration overruled the FBI's and U.S. Attorney's Office decision to procure from Facebook the IP number of those who had posted about the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier. Though time was of the essence in the attempt to find the missing soldier (whom the IDF subsequently determined had been killed), Attorney General Holder ordered the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office not to proceed with an order requiring Facebook to turn over the information. Again he interposed a new bureaucratic requirement that would have required weeks to complete.
AFTER AN ISRAELI ARTILLERY SHELL hit an UNRWA school during Operation Protective Shield, the State Department issued a statement said that the "U.S. is appalled by today's disgraceful shelling." The term "disgraceful" attributed to Israeli forces the intent to target civilians or willful negligence. And throughout the war, the administration (via White House spokesman Josh Earnest) repeatedly called on Israel "to take even greater steps to ensure the protection of civilians," while equally forcefully refusing to specify in what way Israel could do so against Hamas forces, who deliberately placed munitions and missile launchers amidst the civilian population of Gaza.
When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey commented in early November that Israel had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to spare civilians, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki continued to insist that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties. Dempsey's judgment, by the way, confirmed that oft-expressed by Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of NATO expeditionary forces in Afghanistan and a man who has spent a lifetime in non-conventional warfare, that no country in the history of warfare has ever done more to avoid civilian casualties than Israel.
It turns out that the United States is a good deal more forgiving of civilian casualties caused by its own military operations, even when those operations are conducted half-way around the globe from the United States, not to protect a home front under unceasing missile fire, as was the case of the IDF in Gaza last summer.
Though the Obama administration enunciated guidelines in 2013 that drone strikes would only be launched when there was "near certainty" of no civilian casualties, it promptly suspended those requirements with respect to attacks on ISIS and Al Qaeda targets, after a Tomahawk missile designed for an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria hit a home for displaced civilians instead. With respect to striking military targets deeply embedded among the civilian population, there is no such thing as "near certainty" of no civilian deaths.
The 1:1 ratio of Hamas fighters to civilians casualties achieved by Israel last summer is far better than that achieved by other armies fighting embedded terrorist groups, including U.S.forces. A recent study by the human rights group (and therefore not necessarily fully reliable) Reprieve, based on reports by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that only 3.5% – or 41 out of 1,147 -- of those who died in "targeted killings" by the U.S in the Middle East were actually targets. For example, the U.S. targeted 24 men in Pakistan, but managed to kill only six of them. It did, however, kill 874 others, including 142 children. So much for lectures about greater preventive measures.
IN LATE JULY, Secretary of State Kerry attempted to convince Israel to accept a ceasefire that would have left Hamas's infrastructure, including the attack tunnels, intact, and which called for a lifting of Israel's naval blockade. In short, the ceasefire would have rewarded for Hamas for starting the war and raining rockets on Israel's population centers. That offer was rejected by the Israeli cabinet 19-0.
Two months later, Kerry returned to his efforts to reward Hamas, and convened an international donors conference at which billions of dollars of humanitarian aid was pledged to rebuild Gaza. But not a penny was conditioned on Hamas doing anything in terms of disarming or renouncing the war of extermination that it has waged against Israel since the signing of its 1988 covenant. By taking the financial pressure off of Hamas to foot the bill for the destruction it brought about, writes Peter Berkowitz, Kerry assured that Hamas could turn its attention to rebuilding its urban labyrinth of underground tunnels.
A FEW WEEKS LATER, KERRY was back at it again. At a White House gathering in honor of the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha, Kerry told his largely Muslim audience that it is necessary to achieve a Palestinian-Israel peace because the failure to do so fuels ISIS recruitment. Kerry is not exactly the sharpest tack in the box, but it is amazing that even he was able to get off that line without giggles. Perhaps he did not notice that ISIS is marching on Baghdad and not Jerusalem. And videos of the beheadings of Western hostages have been a more than adequate recruitment tool for ISIS.
Given the hundreds of thousands killed, and the millions of refugees, from fighting in Syria, Iraq, and Libya in recent years, the continued discussion of a Palestinian-Israel treaty can only be termed obsessive. Even Martin Idyk, who has made a lucrative career as a Arab-Palestinian peace processor, now admits that the U.S. has little strategic interest at present in a Palestinian-Israel peace treaty.
The one positive outcome of the so-called Arab Spring and the subsequent chaos should have been to finally put to rest the implausible claim that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the cause of the various deformities of the region. As Khalid Abu-Toameh of the Gatestone Institute writes, the Arab-Israeli conflict is the tired excuse upon which failed Arab autocrats always fall back. The current bloodletting in Syria, like the Iraq-Iran war which claimed a million lives, has absolutely nothing to do with Israel. Ancient intra-Muslim religious hatreds between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are the source of most of the turmoil in the region.
Caroline Glick wondered aloud who could those Arab leaders cited by Kerry inhis Eid-al-Adha speech have been. Perhaps it was his good friend Qatari Emir Tamim bin-Hamad Al Thani, who has been financing Hamas to the tune of billions of dollars over the last two years and is providing jihadist groups in Libya a billion dollars annually. Of late the Emir of Qatar has also been channeling money to Israel's Northern Islamic movement, which in turn funnels it into the group that attacks Jews on the Temple Mount, with the goal of heating up the Temple Mount and triggering a third intifada.
AND FINALLY THERE WAS THE AMERICAN CHIDING of Israel for continuing to build in areas of Jerusalem that all recognize will remain part of Israel in any conceivable peace deal. The building permits in question related to the extension of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, which is within the 1948 amnesty lines.
The decision to build said White House spokesman Josh Earnest would "draw condemnation from the international community [and] distance Israel from its closest allies. . . . "The State Departments Jen Psaki went further and said that the construction plans would "call into question Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians." Both statements were dog whistles to the Europeans to follow suit and lay on their own condemnations, and the Europeans responded accordingly.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu declared a nine-month settlement building freeze and Mahmoud Abbas still refused to come to the bargaining table, the Obama administration never issued such a condemnation. Nor has any such condemnation ever been forthcoming for the continuous incitement of the official Palestinian Authority media, including recent celebrations of terrorist murderers of Jews in Jerusalem. Only Israel's commitment to peace is questioned.
ALL THESE WRONGS, however, as we have written times before,.pale besides President Obama's determination to sign an agreement with Iran on any terms. The only reason such an agreement has not be concluded by now is that the Iranians know that Obama has no "red lines" and that their stonewalling will always be met by further concessions. The worst that can happen is that they will stall until their nuclear program is fully operative.
Obama has never openly admitted that his primary foreign policy goal from the outset of his presidency, when he offered no succor to the Green Revolution in Iran, is to seek rapprochement with the mullahs at any price. Instead, as Caroline Glick points out, he always says that his goal is to prevent a nuclear Iran. And thus has he managed to string along a Congress that is deeply suspicious of Iran.
But thanks to the senior White House staffer who called Prime Minister Netanyahu a "chicken" for not having bombed Iran, the cat is out of the bag. According to that official perhaps three years ago, Netanyahu could have acted to stop the Iran nuclear program. But he allowed himself to be checked by Obama and his assurances that the military option was still on the table. Now, crowed the official, it is far too late for Netanyahu to stop the Iranian program.
The goal, its seems, was not preventing a nuclear Iran, whose leaders still spout eliminationist rhetoric against Israel, but rather preventing Israel from stopping the Iranian nuclear program.