Officially, the election on March 17 is among Israelis. Depending on how we vote, either Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will remain in office and form the next government led by his Likud party, or Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni will form a government.
But unofficially, a far greater electoral drama is unfolding. The choice is not between Netanyahu and Herzog/Livni. It is between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.
As the White House sees it, if Herzog/Livni form the next government, then Jerusalem will dance to Obama’s tune. If Netanyahu is reelected, then the entire edifice of Obama’s Middle East policy may topple and fall.
Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the administration’s desire to topple Netanyahu last spring during his remarks before the Trilateral Commission. It was during that memorable speech that Kerry libeled Israel, claiming that we would automatically and naturally become an apartheid state if we didn’t give Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria to the PLO, Jew free, as quickly as possible.
Despite Israel’s venality, Kerry held out hope. In his words, “if there is a change of government [in Israel], or a change of heart, something will happen.”
Shortly after Kerry gave his Israel apartheid speech, his Middle East mediator Martin Indyk attacked Israel and the character of the Israeli people in an astounding interview to Yediot Aharonot.
Among other things, Indyk hinted that to force Israel to make concessions demanded by the PLO, the Palestinians may need to launch another terror war.
Indyk also threatened that the Palestinians will get their state whether Israel agrees to their terms of not. In his words, “They will get their state in the end – whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.”
Indyk made his statements as an unnamed US official. When his identity was exposed, he was forced to resign his position. Following his departure from government service he returned to his previous position as vice president and director of the Brookings Institution and the director of its foreign policy program. Last September, The New York Times reported that the Brookings Institute received a $14.8 million, four-year donation from Qatar, the chief financier of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
This week, Indyk was back in Israel to speak at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies. There he provided us with a picture of what we can expect from the Obama administration in its remaining two years in office if Netanyahu forms the next government.
On the Palestinian front, Indyk warned that Israel shouldn’t be worried about the Palestinians getting an anti-Israel resolution passed in the UN Security Council. Rather, it can expect that the US will join with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution “against Israel’s will” that will “lay out the principle of a two-state solution.”
As Indyk intimated, Israel can avoid this fate if it elects a Herzog/Livni government. Such a government, he indicated, will preemptively give in to all of the Palestinians demands and so avoid a confrontation with the US and its colleagues at the Security Council.
Indyk explained, “If there is a government in Israel after these elections that decides to pursue a two-state solution, then there is a way forward. It begins with coordinating an initiative with the United States. And then, together with the US, looking to Egypt and Jordan and the resurrection of the Arab Peace Initiative.”
As for Iran, Indyk shrugged at Israel’s concerns over the agreement that Obama is now seeking to conclude with the Iranian regime regarding its nuclear weapons program. That agreement will leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state. Indyk suggested that the US could assuage Israel’s concerns by signing a bilateral treaty with Israel that would commit the US to do something if Iran passes some nuclear threshold.
There are only three problems with such a deal.
First, as former ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich noted, such a treaty would likely render Israel unable to take independent action against Iranian nuclear sites.
Second, the US has a perfect track record of missing every major nuclear advance by every country. US intelligence agencies were taken by surprise when India, Pakistan and North Korea joined the nuclear club. They have always underestimated Iranian nuclear activities and were taken by surprise, repeatedly, by Syria’s nuclear proliferation activities. In other words, it would be insane for Israel to trust that the US would act in a timely manner to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold.
Third of course is the demonstrated lack of US will – particularly under the Obama administration – to take any action that could prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. So Israel has no reason whatsoever to believe that the US would honor its commitment.
But then, since the Obama administration believes that Herzog and Livni will be compliant with its policies, the White House may expect the two will agree to forgo Israel’s right to self-defense and place Israel’s national security in relation to Iran in Obama’s hands.
And this brings us to the real contest unfolding in the lead-up to March 17.
When Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner announced last month that he had invited Netanyahu to address the joint houses of Congress on the threat emanating from Iran’s nuclear program and from radical Islam, he unintentionally transformed the Israeli elections from a local affair to a contest between Obama and Netanyahu.
Obama’s response to Netanyahu’s speech has been astounding. His ad hominem attacks against Netanyahu, his open moves to coerce Democratic lawmakers to boycott Netanyahu’s speech, and the administration’s aggressive attempts to damage Israel’s reputation in the US have been without precedent. More than anything, they expose a deep-seated fear that Netanyahu will be successful in exposing the grave danger that Obama’s policies toward Iran and toward the Islamic world in general pose to the global security.
Those fears are reasonable for two reasons.
First due to a significant degree to the administration’s unhinged response to the news of Netanyahu’s speech, Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu sparked a long-belated public debate in the US regarding Obama’s strategy of appeasing the Iranian regime. Generally consistent Obama supporters like The Washington Post editorial board have published stinging indictments of this policy in recent weeks.
These analyses have noted for the first time that in pursuing Iran, Obama is alienating and weakening America’s allies, enabling Iran to expand its nuclear program, and empowering Iran regionally as the US does nothing to prevent Iran’s take of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Second, it is possible that in his remarks about Iran and radical Islam, Netanyahu will manage to discredit Obama’s approach to both issues. This is possible because Obama’s approach is difficult to understand.
Last week, following the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by Islamic State, the Obama administration stood alone in its refusal to note that the victims were murdered because they were Christians. When Egypt retaliated for the massacre with air strikes against Islamic State training camps and other facilities in Libya, the Obama administration refused to support it ally. Instead it criticized Egypt for acting on its own and called for a political solution in Libya, which is now governed by two rival governments and has become a breeding ground for Islamic State terrorists who transit Libya to Sinai.
Following Islamic State’s massacre of the Christians, the group’s leaders threatened to invade neighboring Italy. Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised a strong response, and then called on the UN Security Council to do something. The Obama administration responded with coolness to a similar Egyptian call last week.
Hamas (which is supposedly much more moderate than Islamic State despite its intense cooperation with Libya-trained Islamic State forces in Sinai) warned Italy not to attack Islamic State in Libya, lest it be viewed in the words of Salah Bardawil as beginning “a new crusade against Arab and Muslim countries.”
While all of this has been going on, Obama presided over his much-touted international conference on Confronting Violent Extremism. Reportedly attended by representatives from 60 countries, and featuring many leaders of Muslim Brotherhood- linked groups like the Council on American- Islamic Relations, Obama’s conference’s apparent goal was to deemphasize and deny the link between terrorism and radical Islam.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Obama gave a lengthy defense of his refusal to acknowledge the link between Islam and Islamic State, al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorist groups. He insisted that these groups “have perverted Islam.”
Obama indirectly argued that the West is to blame for their behavior because of its supposed historical mistreatment of Muslims. In his words, the “reality... is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historic grievances, sometimes that’s accurate.”
Obama’s insistence that Islamic State and its ilk attack because of perceived Western misbehavior is completely at odds with observed reality. As The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood demonstrated this week in his in-depth report on Islamic State’s ideology and goals, Islam is central to the group. Islamic State is an apocalyptic movement rooted entirely in Islam.
Most of the coverage of Netanyahu’s scheduled speech before Congress has centered on his opposition to the deal Obama seeks to conclude with Iran. But it may be that the second half of his speech – which will be devoted to the threat posed by radical Islam – will be no less devastating to Obama. Obama’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the fact that the greatest looming threats to global security today, including US national security, stem from radical Islam indicates that he is unable to contend with any evidence that jihadist Islam constitutes a unique threat unlike the threat posed by Western chauvinism and racism.
It is hard to understand either Israel’s election or Obama’s hysterical response to Netanyahu’s scheduled speech without recognizing that Obama clearly feels threatened by the message he will deliver. Surrounded by sycophantic aides and advisers, and until recently insulated from criticism by a supportive media, while free to ignore Congress due to his veto power, Obama has never had to seriously explain his policies regarding Iran and Islamic terrorists more generally. He has never endured a direct challenge to those policies.
Today Obama believes that he is in a to-the-death struggle with Netanyahu. If Netanyahu’s speech is a success, Obama’s foreign policy will be indefensible. If Obama is able to delegitimize Netanyahu ahead of his arrival, and bring about his electoral defeat, then with a compliant Israeli government, he will face no obstacles to his plan to appease Iran and blame Islamic terrorism on the West for the remainder of his tenure in office.