Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s valiant effort this week to educate President Barack Obama on the meaning of Purim and the centuries-old tale about the triumph of moral leadership and courage, the painful reality is that his message fell on deaf ears. The president does indeed “have Israel’s back” — up against a wall.
Over the course of a week in which the president spoke frequently on the subject of Iran, one message stood out. By vociferously arguing that his administration’s brand of diplomacy is realistically capable of ending Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and that views to the contrary are irresponsible war-mongering, Obama is attempting to undermine the legality of an Israeli strike.
In fact, self-defense in international law depends on the assessment that the threat posed to one’s civilian population is real and sufficiently imminent as to justify the use of force to prevent the impending harm. Given the catastrophic nature of the danger, it is not necessary for Israel — or America — to wait until the genocidal Iranian mullahs and President Ahmadinejad have their hands on the nuclear trigger.
But President Obama is painting a different picture. If Israel can be cast as pre-empting or foregoing the reasonable possibility of diplomatic success with a “rational actor” — as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently described Iran — then it would not be engaged in justifiable self-defense. Labeling discussion of the necessity of using force to stymie Iran’s aggressive behavior as “loose talk of war” or “beating the drums of war” — in the president’s words — is also to deny that such a move would be legitimate self-defense.
This explains why in Sunday’s speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, the president lunged the knife into Israel’s back and twisted it: “I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy. … Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. … Israel…[has] an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.” The insulting innuendo was that without his wise admonition Israeli mothers and fathers would be hankering to send their children into battle.
But even the spin doctors — desperate to explain away three years of policy development at odds with Israel’s (and America’s) national security — cannot cover for a patently obvious lack of resolve.