JERUSALEM From this vantage point, two events this week appear to be ominous straws in the wind, warnings of a "man-caused" maelstrom that inexorably may plunge the Middle East into another, potentially cataclysmic war.
The first is that Israel feels obliged to undertake an unprecedented, countrywide civil defense exercise this week. At one point, every man, woman and child in the Jewish state is supposed to seek shelter from a simulated attack of the kind Iran may shortly be able to execute against it.
The second is President Obama's latest effort to reach out to the Muslim world, on Thursday from one of its most important capitals, Cairo. There, he is expected to make a speech reiterating his previous statements on the subject which, unfortunately, can only have been interpreted by his intended audience as acts of submission.
If the past is prelude, the president of the United States will: apologize yet again for purported offenses against Muslims by his country; promise to be respectful of Islam, including those who adhere to its authoritative, if virulent, theo-political-legal program known as Shariah; and enunciate diplomatic priorities and initiatives designed to reach out to America's enemies in the region while putting excruciating pressure on its most reliable ally there, Israel.
This pressure has become more palpable by the day. It has taken various forms, including: U.S. stances adopted at the United Nations that will isolate Israel; blank political and even financial checks for Palestinian thugs such as Mahmoud Abbas; diminishing U.S.-Israeli cooperation on intelligence and military matters; and the withholding from Israel of helicopters (and perhaps other weaponry) being provided to Arab states.
Perhaps the most chilling example of this coercive pressure so far, however, was reported originally in the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot and given international prominence by my esteemed colleague and fellow JWR contributor Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post. According to these accounts, in a recent lecture in Washington, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the American officer charged with training Palestinian military forces in Jordan, made a shocking declaration.
In Ms. Glick's words, Gen. Dayton "indicated that if Israel does not surrender Judea and Samaria within two years, the Palestinian forces he and his fellow American officers are now training at a cost of more than $300 million could begin killing Israelis." She noted that neither the general nor the Obama administration seemed to find this prospect grounds for rethinking the wisdom of such a training-and-arming program. In fact, her column observed that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates "just extended Dayton's tour of duty for an additional two years and gave him the added responsibility of serving as Obama's Middle East mediator George Mitchell's deputy."
Taken together with the U.S. administration's refusal to come to grips with what truly is the most serious threat to peace in the Middle East Iran's rising power and growing aggressiveness, reflecting in part its incipient nuclear-weapons capabilities the stage inexorably is being set for the next, and perhaps most devastating, regional conflict.
Whether the signals Mr. Obama is sending are intended to communicate such a message or not, they will be read by Israel's enemies as evidence of a profound rift between the United States and the Jewish state. In this part of the world, that amounts to an invitation to an open season on Israel.
It is hard to believe the Obama Middle East agenda enjoys the support of the American people or their elected representatives in Congress. Historically, the public and strong bipartisan majorities on Capitol Hill have appreciated that an Israel that shares our values, that is governed democratically and that is in the cross hairs of the same people who seek our destruction is an important ally. Quite apart from a sense of moral and religious affinity for the Jewish people's struggle to survive in their ancient homeland, most of us recognize it is in the United States' strategic interest to stand with Israel.
It is worrisome in the extreme that Mr. Obama does not appear to share this appreciation. To those who worried about his affinity for the Saudi king and Islam more generally and his long-standing ties to virulent critics of Israel such as Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi and former Harvard professor-turned-National Security Council staffer Samantha Power, the president's attitude is not exactly a surprise.
His administration's posture may have been further reinforced by Arab-American pollster John Zogby's recent Forbes magazine article arguing that friends of Israel made up John McCain's constituency, not Mr. Obama's. (This raises an interesting question about the sentiments toward Israel of the 78 percent of American Jews who voted for the latter in 2008.)
My guess, however, is that, as the implications of Mr. Obama's Middle East policies for the United States as well as Israel become clearer, he will find himself facing the sort of popular and congressional revolt that has confronted him in recent weeks on Guantanamo Bay. The question is: Will such a reaffirmation of American solidarity with and support for Israel come in time to prevent the winds of war being whipped up by Mr. Obama's posturing and rhetoric and driving Israelis into bomb shelters from wreaking havoc in the Middle East, and perhaps far beyond?