Why Obama fears Is­rael

Elec­tion-year pol­i­tics dic­tate White House Ira­nian pol­icy

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

Pres­i­dent Obama of­fered to give Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu mil­i­tary as­sis­tance for a strike on Iran. The catch is, Is­rael must de­lay ac­tion un­til af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tion. That’s ac­cord­ing to sev­eral ma­jor news out­lets which ran re­ports based on un­named sources from Mon­day’s White House meet­ing. Whether or not this re­port is ac­cu­rate, it un­der­scores the power dy­nam­ics be­hind the nascent cri­sis with the Is­lamic Repub­lic.

The al­leged U.S. mil­i­tary as­sis­tance would in­clude bunker-buster bombs and aerial-re­fu­el­ing air­craft, which Is­rael would need for a suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran’s well-pro­tected nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture. While Mr. Ne­tanyahu can trade his free­dom of ac­tion for a White House pledge, there is no guar­an­tee it would be ful­filled. Mr. Obama is try­ing to avoid elec­tion-sea­son wild cards that could de­rail his march to a sec­ond term. If he se­cures re-elec­tion in Novem­ber, the pres­sure to sup­port Is­rael would be off and the promised aid need not be de­liv­ered.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu has con­sid­er­able lever­age in the re­la­tion­ship, which was ev­i­dent in the body lan­guage at his White House meet­ing. If Is­rael strikes Iran be­fore the elec­tion, Mr. Obama will have a Hob­son’s choice: Sup­port the at­tack, or do noth­ing. If he does noth­ing, it would re­in­force the per­cep­tion that de­spite his tough talk, Mr. Obama is a weak leader when it comes to deal­ing with sub­stan­tive crises. It would hand Repub­li­cans a win­ning is­sue, and the in­evitable shocks to oil, fi­nan­cial mar­kets and the econ­omy would put Mr. Obama’s re-elec­tion in se­ri­ous jeop­ardy.

A wounded Iran could lash out at the United States since Tehran would as­sume Amer­ica was in­volved. U.S. in­ter­ests abroad could be tar­geted, and there would be po­ten­tial for a do­mes­tic ter­ror at­tack. This would be the worst-case sce­nario for the Obama team be­cause it could no longer claim Mr. Obama kept Amer­ica safe by over­see­ing the take­down of Osama bin Laden. Obama po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives would as­sert that crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent af­ter a do­mes­tic at­tack is a shame­ful at­tempt to profit po­lit­i­cally from na­tional tragedy, but the Re­pub­li­can chal­lenger could rise above par­ti­san­ship while su­per PACS and pun­dits pound the ad­min­is­tra­tion for its fail­ure to de­fend the home­land.

There is a chance such a cri­sis could ben­e­fit Mr. Obama. Pres­i­dent Carter’s Gallup ap­proval rat­ing was 32 per­cent in early Novem­ber 1979 when Ira­ni­ans took 52 U.S. em­bassy staffers hostage. The Amer­i­can public re­sponded to this outrage by ral­ly­ing to the com­man­der in chief, and by the end of Jan­uary 1980, Mr. Carter’s ap­proval rat­ing had soared to 58 per­cent. It soon sank again, but in the short run, in­ter­na­tional crises tend to ad­van­tage the in­cum­bent.

Given these fac­tors, Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s best move is to de­mur at the pur­ported U.S. of­fer of aid de­pen­dent on his push­ing back the prospec­tive timetable for ac­tion. The ques­tions he should ask Mr. Obama are: Is this of­fer still valid if you lose in Novem­ber? And can we get it in writ­ing?

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