During a recent appointment, a patient started discussing the presidential election and Obama’s victory. This man had spent many years studying the history of the middle east and he was well-informed of current events. He voiced a concern that Obama was too neutral regarding the middle east and that this was sending a troubling message to Israel. He predicted that within 60 days of the inauguration – either before or after – Israel would strike Gaza. This was before the current violence broke out. He then told me that soon after this strike, Israel would follow with preemptive strikes on Iran. So far he has been right, and that’s the point of this post.
What concerns my friend – and now, me – about Obama is that he hasn’t really made it clear that he supports Israel and that Israel has a right to defend itself. This sends a message that Israel may not have a very strong ally in Washington once Bush leaves office. Even more concerning is that Israel may not be the only country in the middle east that sees it that way. And so they feel the need to defend themselves before it is too late. And to this date, Obama has been virtually silent on the matter. I think this is a mistake.
I think it’s important to understand that Israel is not going to wait for Iran to develop full offensive nuclear capability. For them, it’s a matter of life and death. They believe that once Iran has this ability they will use it. Ahmedinajad has pretty much made that clear and it would be foolish for anyone to think that he is bluffing. The US, Europe and the UN have done little to dissuade Iran from continuing its pursuit of these weapons and now Obama is giving the impression that he doesn’t want to take sides. With a US president like that in office, Israel will feel like they’ve been backed into a corner and they will take action to defend themselves. Couple that with Obama’s pledge to pull us out of Iraq in 16 months and Israel will feel further isolated. I think Barack Obama will soon be dealing with all-out war between Iran and Israel if he doesn’t start taking action soon. Bush has made it clear that he supports Israel, but he will be in Texas in less than 3 weeks. It’s Obama who has to start talking, and fast.
First, he needs to be clear that Israel is our ally, that we support their right to defend themselves and that Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel constitute acts of terror. Second, he needs to make it clear to Iran that any aggressive action against Israel will not be tolerated. Iran needs to understand that Israel is off limits. He needs to use strong language to convey the message, anything less will be interpreted as hesitancy and weakness, and it could be disastrous. He needs to change the perception that he will be weak on foreign policy. Right or wrong, that’s the impression that other countries have and it will pose a big problem for the new president if he doesn’t start working on it right away.
Joe Biden said that Obama will be tested in foreign policy within 6 months. It looks like he overestimated his prediction. Right now, Israel is not confident that Obama will help protect them; and neither is Iran. That’s a recipe for disaster. If Obama doesn’t act fast then his first 100 days in office may be consumed with an Israeli-Persian war, perhaps even involving nuclear weapons, with US troops sitting right in the middle of it. Not good.