Israel Update for March 2012

David Dolan
David Dolan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US President Barrack Obama at the White House the first week of March, with an apparent focus on the possibility of an Israeli military attack upon Iran's rogue nuclear programme. The American leader assured his Israeli counterpart that "The United States will always have Israel's back" in any potential conflict. Despite this, press reports in Israel and abroad indicated that the two leaders did not exactly see eye to eye on the issue of how to handle Iran's ongoing nuclear programme, which both countries have declared to be dangerous and unacceptable.

Discussions between American and Israeli officials about how to handle the growing nuclear threat posed by Iran continued after the Washington summit. Top military commanders from both countries met to discuss Iran, and also to review the deteriorating situation in Syria, where large numbers of people continued to be slaughtered in what is now being universally termed as a full blown civil war. This came as senior officials at the Pentagon confirmed media reports that the US has developed contingency plans to strike at both the Iranian and Syrian regimes if an order to do so is issued by the White House.

Hundreds of Palestinian rockets rained down once again upon many portions of southern Israel during the first half of March, fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The new Iron Dome anti-rocket system successfully intercepted and destroyed some of the rockets. Despite this, several Israelis were seriously wounded in the latest barrage. Later in the month, four Jews were gunned down at a Jewish school in southern France, reminding everyone that the threats against Jews are evident wherever they are physically located on earth. A young Muslim man was later fingered for the terrorist assault that left three children dead. French officials said the suspected shooter had received Al Qaida terrorist training in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The French Foreign Minister was quickly dispatched to Israel to express solidarity with the victim's families and with the entire Jewish people.

In Israel, a Messianic family that suffered a major terrorist assault four years ago on the annual Jewish festival of Purim was in the headlines once again during March after a suspicious package was left on their doorstep by a man who quickly fled the scene. A large security detail was rushed to the home in the city of Ariel, north of Jerusalem, after the family phoned the local police to report the jarring incident. Fortunately this time around, no explosive device was hidden inside the package, unlike the Purim attack in 2008 that nearly killed a male teenage family member.

As much of the United States experienced one of the warmest winters on record, Israel continued to receive showers of blessings in the form of heavy late winter precipitation during March. The rain and snow added badly needed water to the previously depleted Sea of Galilee, raising it to its highest level in several years.

We've Got Your Back

President Obama hosted the Israeli Prime Minister at the White House on March 5th. Analysts said it was a far more cordial summit meeting than the tense one held last year, which mainly focused on Obama's push to get peace talks resumed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In the run up to the most recent parlay, the American leader delivered a strong pro-Israel speech at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference, pledging that "The United States will always have Israel's back." He later repeated this pledge two more times. However, he also indirectly chided Netanyahu's government for what he termed "loose talk of war" and "bluster" against Iran, which is believed to be close to producing nuclear weapons. The President again insisted that economic and political sanctions slapped on Iran are working and therefore a military showdown may not become necessary. Earlier he told the Atlantic Monthly magazine that Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons and therefore a military strike upon the country would be "premature."

At the AIPAC meeting, Obama heartened his mostly Jewish audience when he stated that Israeli leaders "have a right to decide" what is best to insure the security and existence of their small, constantly threatened country. PM Netanyahu picked up on the "right to decide" theme in his public remarks after the two leaders met both privately and with their respective aids, thanking the President for making that statement. He also acknowledged that the various international sanctions imposed on the Shiite Muslim Iranian regime are having some effect. Still, the conservative Israeli leader again expressed skepticism that sanctions alone will succeed in altering the regime's apparent rush to produce nuclear warheads.

Several political analysts in Israel said it seemed clear during the summit that President Obama has concluded that a military assault upon Iran's nuclear production facilities has now become almost inevitable. The main question remaining is whether the United States itself-with the largest military capacity on earth-will do the job, or will Washington merely support Israel as it takes on the difficult task. Several noted that it is an election year in America, and the Jewish vote is substantial in a number of key swing states, especially in Florida but also in Pennsylvania and other northeastern states. Although not all Jewish voters list Israel as an important electoral issue to them, enough do to make a substantial difference in the President's chances to triumph in the national vote scheduled for early next November. Therefore, the pundits said that Obama has little option but to publicly back Israel if the Netanyahu government decides it has no realistic way to halt Iran's devious nuclear programme other than to launch a military operation. They added that this is the case even if an IDF attack on Iranian nuclear targets has the strong potential of directly involving the United States in the ensuing conflict.

Iranian leaders have stated many times that they will lash out at American military outposts in the turbulent region even if Israel launches a unilateral operation. Whether or not such threats actually materialize would obviously only become clear once an Israeli operation was underway, but most analysts say there is likely to be at least some blow back upon US forces stationed within range of Iranian weapons. This may be why a recent opinion survey conducted in America by the Pew Research group showed a slight majority of citizens-51 per cent-want the US to remain neutral if Israeli military forces attack Iran's nuclear production facilities. The New York Times said Pentagon officials project hundreds of American casualties if Iran lashes out in the region. Others fear Iranian-controlled clandestine Hizbullah cells would unleash terror attacks upon targets inside America and elsewhere around the globe. An American economic analysis group forecast that gas prices in the USA would double if Iran chokes off oil supplies from the Gulf.

Some Israeli political pundits say that Netanyahu's seeming propensity to launch a military strike against Iran sometime later this year might be precisely because of the pending presidential election in America. In other words, the Prime Minister realizes he is far more likely to secure active US backing from Obama while the President is soliciting Jewish voters for his reelection bid than he would from a second term Obama. The American leader fears he might lose many votes if any new Middle East war damages the slowly recovering US economy, as is likely to occur if Iran carries out its threats to block the vital Straight of Hormuz passageway to the world's oceans. The mere possibility of such action is already adding fuel to rising international petroleum prices, note financial analysts. Still, Obama realizes that opinion surveys consistently reveal a majority of voters support the Jewish State and have little love for Iran and its rabid anti-American words and actions. The Democratic Party leader also knows that it is not Israel that is bullying Iran, but just the opposite. The Shiite regime has been actively waging war against Israel for many years now via its Hizbullah and Hamas surrogates, and is constantly vowing that Israel will soon be destroyed. So the President realizes any sane and responsible international leader could not just sit back with arms folded while an enemy country with that dastardly makeup was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

One day after the White House summit, it was announced that Iranian leaders had agreed to resume formal talks centered on its nuclear programme with diplomats representing the world's main nuclear powers: the United States, China, Russia, France and the UK, and also with non-nuclear Germany. President Obama told a White House news conference the talks provided "a new window of opportunity" to see if diplomacy can avert a military showdown. While welcoming the fresh discussions, Israeli officials again expressed skepticism that the international diplomats will be able to prod Iranian leaders to reverse course, especially since both China and Russia have substantial business ties with Tehran. Meanwhile a senior figure in the German defense establishment said there is evidence to suggest Iran played an active role in the test-detonation of an experimental uranium nuclear bomb carried out in North Korea in 2010. The head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, told the American-based CNN news channel that "Iran is not telling us everything. That is my impression. We are asking Iran to engage with us proactively, and Iran has a case to answer."

Queen Esther At The White House

As is traditionally the case, the Israeli leader brought a present with him to give to his American host. The gift this time was a copy of the biblical book of Esther, which tells the story of the edict from ancient Persia to wipe out the Jewish people scattered all over the Persian empire. It seemed evident that Netanyahu was not so subtly reminding Obama that the situation is virtually identical today. Whether or not the Creator of the Universe once again intervenes in a miraculous way to overturn the vows of annihilation being uttered by the vile leaders of modern Persia remains to be seen, but the Israeli Premier might hope his timely gift will help elicit earthly support from the Commander in Chief of the world's largest military force.