Obama Visit to Israel: A Love Fest with Lots of Policy Complications

The Obama visit to Israel has become an unlimited love fest with expressions of mutual admiration and total agreement. In his joint press conference with Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the foremost issue they were discussing was “Iran's relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons.” (Don't miss the "P.S.", below.)

Netanyahu put forward his position by praising Obama for saying he was determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons by using “determined diplomacy and strong sanctions.” But, Netanyahu continued, despite all the great things Obama had done, Iran’s nuclear program remained:

And as you know, my view is that in order to stop Iran's nuclear programs peacefully, diplomacy and sanctions must be augmented by clear and credible threat of military action.

Netanyahu thus tried to build on Obama’s previous statements by thanking Obama “for always making clear that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

In other words, he suggested implicitly that supporting an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was a logical outgrowth of Obama’s policies, an idea that Obama does not share.

Whether right or not, Netanyahu suggested that there was only about a year before Iran is at the verge of the ability to have weapons. Thus, he put a time limit on how long diplomacy and sanctions can be attempted.

He also subtly asserted Israel’s need for independent action:

I know that you appreciate that Israel can never cede the right to defend ourselves to others, even to the greatest of our friends, and Israel has no better friend than the United States of America.

Regarding Syria, Netanyahu noted that this too was discussed, and that both countries want to see a stable and peaceful Syria. In addition, the weapons in Syria should not fall into the hands of terrorists.

The problem, of course, is that Obama is supporting a Syrian regime that would be Islamist and under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, a sworn enemy of Israel. Moreover -- since the United States is practically handing out weapons to terrorists -- it is hard to imagine these arms have not already fallen into the wrong hands.

Netanyahu concluded:

And I have no doubt that the best way to do that is to work closely with the United States and other countries in the region to address this challenge, and that is what we intend to do.

In other words, Israel will try to get U.S. policy to be careful, and Netanyahu awaits the day the U.S. comes to its senses and recognizes the size of the problem Washington helped create.

The third point of discussion was the “peace process.” Netanyahu assured Obama that he was fully committed to peace and to a two-state solution. He is ready to negotiate without preconditions and to work towards a historic compromise.

Here, Netanyahu knows that the Palestinian leadership is neither ready to negotiate unconditionally nor to make any historic compromises beyond accepting the pre-1967 boundaries, and even then with the demand that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs be settled inside Israel’s borders.

In his response, Obama praised Israel’s “thriving democracy” and Israel’s unique security needs. He made clear his appreciation of the threat from Hamas and his commitment to Israel’s security. He noted such things as military and intelligence cooperation, joint exercises and training, and security assistance and advanced technology.

Almost openly making an appeal for domestic support, Obama stated:

In short -- and I don't think is just my opinion; I think, Bibi, you would share this -- America's support for Israel's security is unprecedented, and the alliance between our nations has never been stronger.

In other words: Mr. Prime Minister -- don’t you think that I’m the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House?

Netanyahu wasn’t going to say “no.” His answer later in the press conference, though, was on his own terms:

I appreciate the fact that the president has reaffirmed, more than any other president, Israel's right and duty to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We just heard those important words now. And I think that sums up our -- I would say, our common view.

In other words, yes, Obama has laid the basis for Israel saying that he is willing to support it in defending itself, even if that requires an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. I don’t think Netanyahu believes that, but he has to try that gambit.

Then Obama made an extraordinary statement:

I think that what Bibi alluded to, which is absolutely correct, is each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action. And Israel is differently situated than the United States, and I would not expect that the prime minister would make a decision about his country's security and defer that to any other country, any more than the United States would defer our decisions about what was important for our national security.

What Obama just said publicly is that if Netanyahu decided that Israel’s defense required an attack on Iran, the president would not expect the prime minister to be deterred by U.S. opposition.