What to Expect When Obama Visits Israel
The U.S. government will talk about the prospects for democracy in Syria, how the Muslim Brotherhood there is going to be moderate and pragmatic, and how the aim of U.S. policy is to use the Brotherhood to restrain the Salafists.
Israeli officials will be very polite in discussions, and sarcastic when they talk among themselves afterward. The two countries' interests may not clash, but their perceptions of how to promote those interests do. The United States will help install in Syria a regime that is likely to be hardline anti-Israel and might well form an alliance with Egypt and Hamas, try to destabilize Jordan, and give help and weapons to anti-Israel terrorists. That might be an improvement over what exists now, but American help to Syrian moderates would have been far preferable. Israel is very much aware of the new danger from Syria.
Hopefully there will be some discussion over Egypt. Obama will emphasize that the peace treaty has not been renounced and that the Brotherhood regime is, at least for the moment, blocking the flow of weapons into the Gaza Strip. Israel will say thank you and talk about how this needs to continue, and about its worries that the new Egyptian government will get more militant on foreign policy once it entrenches itself in power.
Iran: Presumably, the U.S. delegation and Obama will emphasize their optimism about negotiations with Tehran and express wishful thinking that the June election will result in a more moderate government after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves office. In other words, they will preach hope and patience.
In addition, they will stress that all options are being kept open and that the United States will never accept Iran having nuclear weapons. How the U.S. government is going to stop this is quite unclear. Personally, I don’t believe that Obama will ever attack Iranian nuclear facilities or support such an Israeli operation.
I’m not saying he should do so; I’m just predicting he won’t do so.
There might also be talk about covert operations, perhaps even based on U.S.-Israel cooperation, and intelligence-gathering efforts on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons.
What’s not clear is how much Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will emphasize the idea of an attack on Iranian facilities. Presumably, he will say that he is happy to give the United States and other Western countries time to try non-military means, including sanctions. He will warn them that negotiations won’t work. He might say something to the effect that Israel will wait out 2013, but when 2014 comes and Iran’s drive continues, that would be the moment for a military response.
The reality is, however, that Obama will continue to deny that his strategy is one of containing Iran; rather he will say that his goal is preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. That will go on until Iran gets nuclear weapons and Obama switches to a containment strategy.