Obama-Netanyahu: Round II

Both the United States and Israel are getting their democratic houses in order following national elections. While President Obama is at the end of the process of reshaping his Cabinet, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu only this week got the nod to start forming a coalition, which will probably take him every bit of the 45 days the law gives him for the task.

While the president has a practically guaranteed four years in office, Netanyahu could find himself facing elections in two to three years if he fails to put together a coalition that is broad enough to fend off the steady stream of no-confidence motions that the opposition can be expected to file from the moment his government is formed. Politically, life for an Israeli prime minister, in the parliamentary system, is much more tenuous than that of a U.S. president.

Once the dust settles and the two countries’ governments are up and running, the U.S.-Israel relationship will be put to one of its most critical tests ever. As Hamodia’s defense correspondent, A. Pe’er, explains in his feature story this week, the Middle East — never a particularly safe neighborhood — has become a powder keg.

Syria is on the verge of disintegrating and its billions of dollars worth of advanced weaponry — paid for by Iran — is in danger of falling into the hands of the worst terror organizations, from Hizbullah in Lebanon, to Islamic Jihad in Gaza, to al-Qaida, which views America — the “Great Satan” — as its primary target. What these groups share in common, together with their puppeteer, Iran, is a determination to export the Islamic revolution to all corners of the world.

The advanced weapons we’re talking about could, chalilah, alter the balance of power in the region. If Hizbullah acquires Syria’s Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft missile batteries, capable of downing planes at heights of 25,000 feet, the Israel Air Force won’t have freedom to fly over Lebanon for intelligence-gathering or other purposes. If it gets hold of the land-to-sea missiles, Israeli naval vessels will be vulnerable to attack as far as 180 miles from Lebanese shores (and Israeli offshore gas fields will be vulnerable). If it obtains chemical and biological weapons … The mind stops short of imagining such a scenario. Hashem yerachem.

Israel succeeded last week, according to foreign reports, in foiling an attempt to transfer weapons to Hizbullah — but how many times can it strike before Iran gives the order to either Hizbullah in Lebanon or Islamic Jihad in Gaza to fire on Israeli citizens with their massive arsenals?

Complicating matters immeasurably is that Iran hasn’t given up on its dream to obtain nuclear weapons. Just this week, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, a former head of Military Intelligence and one of the eight Israeli pilots who destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, revealed that Iran has what it needs to build a nuclear bomb in four to six months.

It is against this backdrop that questions are being asked insofar as what can Israel expect in a second Obama term. Of concern is a new U.S. secretary of state who, though not hostile to Israel, has proven to be naïve about Middle Eastern tyrants, and a proposed U.S. defense secretary who has been downright hostile.

John Kerry, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Damascus on March 16, 2011, the day after the first mass demonstration against the Syrian regime. He emerged from his meeting with Assad expressing confidence that the Syrian leader was a man of his word who “embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States.”

This tendency, common among liberals, to view dictators and their regimes through rose-colored glasses only emboldens the dictators to continue on their path, in the belief that the world’s major power is gullible. News reports that Kerry intends to negotiate with Tehran about its nuclear program are therefore cause for concern.

Shortly after being sworn in last Friday as secretary of state, Kerry was on the phone to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, promising to make advancing the peace process between the two a top priority. While that’s what you’d expect America’s top diplomat to say, the question is whether he continues to believe that the key to the Middle East is the Palestinian problem. If that’s his perception, Israel, and the entire Western world, is in trouble.

When it comes to Obama’s choice for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, the problem isn’t naïveté but animus.

In the final analysis, it isn’t the secretary of state or the secretary of defense who determines U.S. policy, but the president.

It’s no secret that Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu don’t have the kind of personal chemistry that existed between, say, then-President Bill Clinton and the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. But it must be said, to the president’s credit, that in his first term of office he distinguished between personality issues and national security issues when it came to Israel and the region. His support for Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile system, for example, helped protect millions of Israelis during the recent Operation Pillar of Defense and proved to be critical in the success of the campaign.

It is our hope and prayer that President Obama continue to understand the strategic importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance to the security of the entire world. May he and his team merit success in understanding the nature of the Iranian nuclear threat and, with G-d’s help, succeed in circumventing it.