Sunday 11 November 2012

Barack is Back - The Aftermath for Israel

While half of America celebrates the results of the presidential election, many Israelis will be feeling quite depressed about the results.  It would be safe to say that most of Israel was rooting for Romney (or whoever would have opposed Barack Obama).  In four short years, Obama succeeded in alienating much of the Israeli public, and there is a fairly flat feeling about the prospect of Obama continuing similar Middle East policies over the next four years.

Of course, it is true that Israelis have very different interests than Americans have when viewing the presidential election.  Americans are justifiably mostly concerned about economic issues, and about domestic issues such as universal health care.  These are issues which are of much less interest to the average Israeli, even though the man on the street in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem still cares a great deal about who will govern from the White House.  The reason for this is quite simple.  The White House has historically had a substantial impact on events in the Middle East in the past, and this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.  People are clearly hoping that this influence will be exerted to help the security of the Jewish people in Israel, and also to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.  The experience of how this influence has been exerted over the past four years does not engender any feeling of confidence that the current status quo is likely to change, or that the current situation will move in a positive direction over the next four years.  Even though life for Jews in Israel has been far worse in the past, people continue to live in hope that it will be a lot better with the help and influence of the White House in the future.

When Barack Obama came to power four years ago, there was a great deal of scepticism in Israel about how a president with such close family links to Islam, could be good for the Jews in Israel.  The euphoria and excitement that swept through the USA, however, convinced many to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and the chance to prove himself one way or the other.  Now, four years later, many believe that he has proved himself, and that their initial scepticism was fully justified.  In President Obama's first presidential visit to the Middle East, he made a point of stopping in Egypt to lay out his policy for the region.  Since then, he has not stepped foot in Israel nor shown himself to be particularly engaged in Middle Eastern issues.  He has waged a battle against policies that Prime Minister Netanyahu has pursued to secure the safety of Israel as a Jewish state, and has allowed Iran to reach the verge of producing a nuclear weapon by not being prepared to support the required military action to remove this threat.  Even though not all Israelis are supporters of Netanyahu and his policies, Obama's opposition to these policies have been viewed as unhelpful to Israel's cause and her security.  Obama has not been sufficiently willing to speak out against the continued missile fire under which so many communities in the south of Israel have been forced to live under, and to make clear to the perpetrators of these attacks how unacceptable this situation is.

Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush was the one who coined the phrase "if they are not with us, they are against us", in the context of the war on terror following the 9/11 attacks.  Israel has been fighting a war on terror for much longer than this, and understands very well the fact that there can be no "abstentions" in this important issue.  Those who do not strongly support the fight and help to take steps to assist in eradicating terror, effectively enable it by their lack of action.  Those who do not actively work to eradicate the nuclear threat from Iran, are those who enable it.  Responsibility for this extremely worrying situation will fall to all of those who were happy to be spectators while it was clear that a nuclear weapon was being constructed by a rogue regime with full knowledge and in full sight of the world.  The UN was set up in the wake of the Second World War with a brief of preventing conflicts and avoid future wars.  This type of activity is surely exactly what the UN has been set up to act against.  Even though the clear understanding is that Iran's nuclear program has the worst of intentions, it is being allowed by the world, and by Barack Obama in particular, to proceed almost unimpeded.

With this background, it is hardly surprising that Obama doesn't have a place in the hearts of many Israelis.  There are those who claim that the Obama administration has done more than any other US administration to provide arms and funding for weapons to Israel.  It is also clear that a strong US economy is good for Israel's economy in many respects.  So, action taken by Obama to strengthen the US economy is good and extremely important for Israel's continued well-being.  But these are indirect, and often invisible to the Israeli eye.  The most public and obvious matters, being the Iran nuclear issue and the continued conflict with the Palestinians, particularly Hamas in Gaza, are always going to be the issues that grab the headlines.  These are also the things that will capture the attention of the Israeli public, and by which Obama's success and failure with regard to his policy on Israel will be measured.

What remains unclear, is the extent to which the personal lack of agreement between Netanyahu and Obama may affect Obama's Israel policy.  Netanyahu is reported to have got on the wrong side of Obama on more than one previous occasion, and was extremely clear in his support for Romney in the presidential election campaign.  Indications from the White House are, that this will not influence Obama's attitude towards Israel, but this remains to be seen.  Despite the lurch towards democracy by some Middle Eastern countries as a result of the Arab Spring, Israel is still the only truly democratic country in the Middle East that the US can truly rely upon as an ally.  Their partnership in the war on terror is also a critical for both the US and Israel.

Perhaps its a good thing that Israelis have a very low expectation of the support that Israel will get from the new Obama administration.  At least, this means that the chances for disappointment are much lower than was the case four years ago when he took office for the first time.  Of course, we would all like to be pleasantly surprised, but there is no expectation that this will be the case.  The real fear is that we will wake up one day during the course of the next few years, and find that Iran has a nuclear bomb.  This will change the shape of the Middle East, and of the world.  It is our hope that Obama will at least take action to prevent this nightmare becoming reality.  Even though Israel is known for acting independently where required, and is not bound to US agreement or support on these matters in any way, the problem is a global one and not one which is only a threat to Israel.  While Israel is clearly one of the main targets of the Iranian aggression, this issue should not be left entirely to Israel to take care of.  The US and other countries around the world have a clear share of responsibility.  The time to act is now.

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