Bibi, Obama, and the Incendiary Summer

This is a pivotal moment for Israel.

The cool breeze of the Arab Spring, about which many of us were hopeful but skeptical, is now an Incendiary Summer. This ominous anger over a trashy film has caused riots and replaced the Stars and Stripes with Islamist flags in many places. Our embassies are threatened in at least twelve Muslim capitals. In addition, a planned terrorist attack killed a U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Libya.

The eruption come against the background of Bibi Netanyahu turning up the rhetoric on Iran—most recently today, on “Meet the Press” and CNN—insisting that the West draw “a red line” that Iran will not be allowed to cross before it presumes to give Israel “a red light” for a strike of its own. But Israel’s red line is closer than America’s, because our far superior force will be able to work at a later point in time.

If Iran crosses Israel’s Red Line  and Israel has not attacked, it will have to trust the U.S. to a strike before America’s Red Line is also crossed. This window of trust would be the first time Israel relied on any nation for its military security. It would be almost the first time any Americans have been asked to go into harm’s way on Israel’s behalf.

And the trust would have to be greater if Obama is re-elected, which looks increasingly likely. Perhaps Romney would pull the trigger on Iran faster than Obama, but you have to be pretty sure that his shoot-from-the-hip style would be good for Israel before you support Mitt.

One thing is clear from the Incendiary Summer: the response of Arab countries if Iran succeeds can only spell danger for Israel. A nuclearizing Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood in power? Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy’s days are probably numbered? Libya, where our envoy was killed and our flag burned?

Some close to Bibi say he wants the Iran strike before November, since neither candidate could do anything the next morning except support Israel. This would be a high-risk move not just because of the blowback from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, but because Israel’s own experts are deeply divided.

He and defense minister Ehud Barak, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, want to do it. Two former heads of Israeli security services, Meir Dagan (Mossad) and Yuval Diskin (Shin Bet) are openly opposed. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and current one Benny Gantz have each said in the past few months that Iran is not yet near-nuclear. Netanyahu responded with contempt. I don’t know when Israel’s leaders were so publicly split on national security.

Now Amos Yadlin, who flew one of the F-16s that destroyed Iraq’s reactor and went on to aid the destruction of Syria’s and the covert campaign against Iran, has proposed a “third way.” He doesn’t think Bibi and Barak are crazy, does think Iran must be stopped, and doesn’t expect a major blowback. He is certain the IDF can do it.

But he opposes Israel going it alone. What worries him is “the decade after the strike… It will give us just a few years,” while regime change in Iran could take longer. “We need the international community and the United States” to bridge this gap. A repeat strike must be credible, sanctions must hurt, and international cooperation must prevail. Otherwise in quick succession, “we get an Iranian bombing and an Iranian bomb.”

He sees about a year for dialogue with the U.S. to produce a solid agreement. Like Bibi, he wants to know the American Red Line, but thinks there is time for the two allies to converge. “We absolutely must not do anything before the election in the United States,” he says, citing Ben Gurion’s view: Israel should never go to war without superpower backing.

“We need to cool things down, wait until after the U.S. election and then develop a real dialogue with whoever is elected.” The strike will be needed, but will be done in a way that sticks—with the full support of whoever wins in November. That will take, he says, a dialogue that needs and can be given about the length of the Jewish year that begins tonight.

Meanwhile, Bibi is speaking on U.S. television but will not be seeing President Obama during his U.N. visit later this month. He insists he has not been snubbed and refuses to take sides in our election. But even if Yadlin is right, the clock is ticking, and Bibi’s “red light” speech drew a red line for Israel. As of today, he’s embarrassing Obama again, and if he thinks he can sway this election he’s kidding himself badly. It now sounds like an argument, but it had better turn into a dialogue soon.

6 thoughts on “Bibi, Obama, and the Incendiary Summer

  1. Happy and health new year How good to hear from you again
    I enjoyed your column but would like to make an observation or two

    When Guiliani cleaned up New York, the approach was to hit all levels of crime from the smallest to the biggest and this bottom up theory rather than the top down concept is given credit for making New York very safe. I am taking the same approach with political comments. You put in a mention about Romney shooting from the hip which to me is just the media approach to decrediting Romney and diverting attention from Obama. I am not sure of what shooting from the hip attitude you mean but in general, Mitt is thoughtful and gives measured statements. In fact, most complain the statements are too measured. His response to the Cairo situation, even before Libya got out of hand, was to condemn the embassy response to apologize for a movie that our government did not sanction and had been on You Tube since June. This is a Presidential election and fully 1/4 of the Democrat convention based on how wonderful it is that Obama killed Osama. Please review the Biden address. Also, it is clear that Obama was asleep both literally and figuratively at the wheel during the first 16 hours of this crisis bringing to memory the Hillary Clinton commercial of 2008 projecting Obama as a weak foreign relations guy who at 3 AM would have no clue on what to do. So what did we get, a President at 3 AM asleep. Whether Romney made his release chiding the administration and the embassy at 11 PM 9/11 or 7 AM 9/12 does not detract from a fluid situation in which our leaders, not our candidates, were playing catch up If this is shooting from the hip, so be it. This follows the statements of 2009 that Obama would explain what we did wrong under Bush, visit the Arab world and all would be well.

    Your point about a third route available to Israel is both interesting and impossible. Once the genie is out of the bottle it cannot get back in. The timelines of late 2013 or early 2014 for Iranian nuclear capabilities seem wrong and outdated. With no doubt that Islamist fundamentalists either with or without Iranian money is diverting attention away from the nuclear program and Obama wavering with regards to Iran, I think it is clear that diplomacy is out. Three years have been spent on diplomacy with little or no result. It is not like it has not been tried for the past three years. Ambassador Susan Rice to the UN who makes me long for the days of Shirley Temple as our representative keeps pointing out that the sanctions are working and ruining the Iranian economy. Unfortunately ruined or not, the move to nuclear capabilities continue unabated and many doubt the efficacy of the sanctions since clearly China, Russia and even India are not on board and Iran still is able to move money and goods to other willing countries. Even the Obama listing of countries being cut off by the US for not obeying sanctions includes Japan which is one of the biggest buyers of Iranian oil. The diplomacy gambit is as efficacious as the French reliance on diplomacy mainly due to the fact that France has not won a battle, a war, or a foie de grasse contest since Napolean.

    The most disturbing aspect which I wish you would address is the demonizing of the Jews Maureen Dowd just trashed Israel and the Jews in the New York Times. Most national outlets (not Fox however ) ran with the story that Jews made the anti Islam movie even without checking the story. As it turns out, the story was made by an Egyptian Coptic Christian but the Jews still took the heat for the first two days. Even Ambassador Rice continues to blame a 14 minute movie for the riots in the Arab world saying this is not anti American policy despite prior warnings of attacks (she and Obama deny this), confirmation of the prior fact by the Libyan President (Rice and Obama deny) and that this attack has nothing to do with 9/11 or our own drone strikes with their collateral damage. Susan Rice bends incredibility beyond normal stretching.

    Lastly, to contemplate during services, if a 14 minute movie on You Tube has stirred the Arab world, what will a major release coming on the Obama raid which the White House has been leaking information to do to the same Arab street. Also, why has our government which use to focus on human rights been so quiet about the slaughter of Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, the Sudan and Somalia.

    I look forward to your response and if you post letters to your list of intellectuals of which I am not one but glad to be at least included, I would appreciate these thoughts transmitted as well for feed back. I always like to know when I am wrong.

    Note from Mel Konner: The writer is a distinguished Atlanta otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, named a “Top Doc” of 2010 by Atlanta Magazine and a U.S. News & World Report Top Doctor 2011- 2012. He is a long-time supporter of Israel and the Jewish community.

  2. Dear Jeff,

    Thank you for this very thoughtful comment. Just briefly: I didn’t say diplomacy would deter Iran, it won’t, and I’m talking (following Yadlin) about diplomacy between Israel and the U.S., which neither Obama nor Netanyahu has been very good at. I saw the Biden speech, and yes, a lot of the Dems’ convention was about OBL, but you’ve got to admit that in the GOP convention, um, mistakes were made. I am worried about Obama and Susan Rice too, but Romney makes me very nervous. If he became president, I think the country and the world would be okay, but I think the same about Obama. Israel will continue to be in danger either way. By the way, I liked Romney’s speech in Israel.

    Here’s what I think you need to consider: Former heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad, plus former and current heads of the IDF, plus now Yadlin who personally bombed the Iraqi reactor, helped destroy the Syrian one, and has been working covertly against Iran all along——all of these folks disagree with you on the time line and think the attack can be done in another year or so. Yadlin is just saying, get the U.S. on board completely first. Will this be easier with Romney? Maybe. But don’t forget, it’s the GOP foreign policy experts who for decades opposed Israel and sucked up to the Arab world. And it’s Harry Truman who helped make Israel possible.

    In any case, thanks for reading and thinking about this,


  3. Do not want to engage in what about. But no Nixon 1973-no Israel. I am far more comfortable with Romney who grew up in USA and worked in business and government with a lot of Jewish involvement than Barack Hussein with an Indonesian childhood and twenty year exposure to Reverend Wright (do not forget him), Louis Farrakhan and Jessie (Hymietown, New York) Jackson. Remember. JFK. You judge a man by the people with who he surrounds himself. Do you really trust Israel’s future with these men and David Axlerod?
    Please post the above with your response to my response to your response. Etc. feel free to identify me on the post. Thank you for letting my voice be heard with such intellects. Zie geszhundt

    Jeffrey A Kunkes, M.D.

  4. On Obama:

    “This is the truth about America: Israel enjoys tremendous bipartisan support, tremendous … And I think that bipartisan support is expressed by any person who happens to be the president of the United States, including President Obama.” Benjamin Netanyahu, “Meet the Press,” Sept. 25, 2011

    “I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and backing and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.” Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak via Fox News, 8/3/11

    “Meanwhile, visits by the Israeli and American military brass have jumped dramatically. Since becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2007, Adm. Michael Mullen has made four visits to Israel, two of them this year alone. Before Adm. Mullen, no chairman of the joint chiefs had visited Israel for over a decade. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has visited Washington four times so far this year, a schedule unmatched by any recent Israeli defense minister. ‘There’s been a constant stream of American officers coming through,’ said one senior Israeli army officer. ‘I haven’t seen anything like it in my 20 years in the army.'” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 24, 2010

    Read more:

    Republicans on the Romney campaign:

    “I hope the Romney campaign actually knows what is going on … You should be killing out there. And instead, you’re being killed.” Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, 8/10/12.

    “Mitt Romney is in trouble.” Joe Scarborough, former GOP congressman, on his TV show, 9/10/12.

    “He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?” David Brooks, Republican columnist and strong supporter of the Jewish community, in The New York Times, 9/18/12.

  5. I don’t know if you ever go back over and read what you wrote but I hope you do realize the ambassador was not murdered due to the film.

    • Thanks for this. Generally I don’t go back and edit posts that were accurate as of the date they were posted, but I’m making an exception this time. Certainly it is now clear that this was a planned terrorist attack and that the Obama administration got it wrong. It also appears that security was lax at the consulate despite warnings. Thank you again for pointing this out, Mel Konner

Leave a Comment