Alan Berger thinks President Obama should pay Israel a visit just ahead of the nation’s January 22 elections:
A politician is expected to reward friends and punish whoever dares to cross him. So Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s barely veiled backing for Mitt Romney not only bent the unwritten rule requiring Israeli leaders to preserve a posture of immaculate neutrality in US elections; it meant that Obama owes the Israeli pol some sort of payback.
If Obama’s past performances can be taken as a reliable guide, there is little chance he would retaliate against Netanyahu by meddling in the Israeli election scheduled for Jan. 22. But he should. Not for the petty motive of settling scores with Netanyahu, but to safeguard the true long-term interests of Israelis, Americans, and all the peoples of the Middle East…
Considering that a new party to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud is polling 12 to 14 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, that Likud’s own list is now dominated by radicals impatient with democratic restraint, and that Israel’s centrist and left-leaning parties seem to be in steep decline, an Obama speech could hardly be expected to enable someone other than Netanyahu to form the next government. In Israel’s parliamentary system, however, the shape and disposition of a government is often determined in the bargaining, balancing, and bribing with ministerial portfolios that go under the rubric of forming a coalition. And the right sort of speech from Obama could have a crucial effect on the post-election process of deal-making.
In the pages of the New York Times, the former director of the Mossad and national security adviser writes:
Despite the Republican Party’s shrill campaign rhetoric on Israel, no Democratic president has ever strong-armed Israel on any key national security issue. In the 1956 Suez Crisis, it was a Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who joined the Soviet Union in forcing Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula after a joint Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt.
In 1991, when Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv, the administration of the first President Bush urged Israel not to strike back so as to preserve the coalition of Arab states fighting Iraq. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir resisted his security chiefs’ recommendation to retaliate and bowed to American demands as his citizens reached for their gas masks.
After the war, Mr. Shamir agreed to go to Madrid for a Middle East peace conference set up by Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Fearful that Mr. Shamir would be intransigent at the negotiating table, the White House pressured him by withholding $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel, causing us serious economic problems. The eventual result was Mr. Shamir’s political downfall. The man who had saved Mr. Bush’s grand coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991 was “thrown under the bus.”
In all of these instances, a Republican White House acted in a cold and determined manner, with no regard for Israel’s national pride, strategic interests or sensitivities. That’s food for thought in October 2012.
On a related note, Monday’s debate section on Israel was an embarrassment to both candidates and the United States. No one’s best interests are served by repeating Likud Party propaganda for 15 minutes.