Strained Netanyahu Visit Shows Obama's Failed Middle-East Policy

Kaiserslautern, Germany: Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington without a White House appointment, even though he had important issues to discuss with President Obama. But the president left the Israeli twisting in the wind waiting for an appointment until his conditions for granting the meeting were satisfied. Only then did they huddle after dark and without the press present. These circumstances illustrate a highly-strained relationship and Obama’s failed Middle East policy.

A White House statement on the Obama-Netanyahu meeting said they discussed “…Iran and how to move forward on Middle East peace.”  Before leaving Washington, Netanyahu said the “…importance of the visit will become clear in the future.”   He characterized their 100-minute talk as “warm” and “open” without mentioning his alleged “difficulties” with Obama.

Apparently, Netanyahu expects the secret details of the meeting to produce tangible results.  But of the two crises discussed, the Iranian atomic stand-off is Netanyahu’s priority. The other issue, Middle East peace, is politically important for Obama because of his campaign to win support among Muslims, but Netanyahu knows it’s a dead issue in part because of a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Last week, Clinton was in the Mideast where she said an Israeli settlement freeze in the “West Bank” should not be a precondition for resumption of peace talks that broke down last December. That statement pleased Netanyahu, who opposes any freeze but angered many Arabs by appearing to reverse Obama’s commitment to a total freeze. It also put Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in an untenable position because he refuses to resume talks “…without a full cessation of settlement construction.”   

But the freeze dispute is only part of the Palestinian problem.  The peace process is also in turmoil because Abbas called for elections in January even though the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, refuses to participate and threatened to punish any Palestinian who supports the elections.  Now, Abbas says he won’t run for re-election and the State Department virtually admitted defeat when it said Obama’s special envoy for Mideast peace, George Mitchell, has no immediate plans to return to the region to continue his push for a resumption of peace talks.  

Even though the peace process is dead, Obama insisted Netanyahu pretend otherwise.  That’s why, according to the Wall Street Journal, Obama officials held Netanyahu’s meeting request hostage until the Israeli agreed to express “…a more robust and public commitment to the peace track” in his speech before the Jewish Federations of North America in Washington last Monday.  

Predictably the prime minister caved to Obama’s arm twisting.  Netanyahu described himself in his speech as “…a not-cynical supporter of the peace process,” called on Abbas to “…let us seize the moment to reach an historic agreement,” and praised Obama’s leadership on Iran.

The White House meeting likely began with a pro forma discussion of the failed peace process, but Netanyahu quickly turned Obama’s attention to Iran.  He reviewed the latest Israeli intelligence regarding Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.  Israel believes the rogue could have an atomic weapon within the year and it already has a ballistic missile ready for mating.   His briefing possibly mentioned the International Atomic Energy Agency’s breaking news about Iran’s work with a state-of-the-art two-point atomic implosion warhead.

The prime minister likely solicited Obama’s help preparing for the inevitable blowback should a military strike become necessary.  That’s why Netanyahu probably asked Obama to help wean Syria away from Iran in anticipation Damascus would support Iranian attacks against Israel.  But weaning Syria from Iran is linked to Israeli-Syrian peace, which according to Syrian President Bashar Assad, is stalled by the U.S. “weak link” by which Assad means the lack of Obama’s leadership.

Syria is also important because it provides critical support to Iran’s terrorist proxy, Hizbullah, which occupies most of southern Lebanon along Israel’s northern border. In 2006, Hizbullah launched thousands of rockets against Israel and is now rearmed for the next round at Tehran’s command. Recently, Israel seized a ship near Cyprus that was carrying 500 tons of Iranian-made weapons for Hizbullah.

Obama and Netanyahu must have reviewed the president’s failing diplomacy. In May, Obama counseled patience promising Netanyahu the G8 economic leaders intended to impose a deadline for Iranian cooperation or Tehran would face severe sanctions.

In June, those leaders set a late Sept. deadline for Iran to quit enriching uranium and open its atomic facilities for inspection. Predictably, Iran waited until after the deadline to accept a meeting but ignored the G8’s other demands.

Then on Oct. 1 in Geneva, Switzerland, world economic powers met to produce a deal that promised to buy more time to diplomatically resolve the crisis.  The proposal calls for Iran to surrender to Russia most of its low enriched uranium (LEU) for further enrichment and then France would convert the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes.   

That deal would deny Tehran access to its LEU for bomb making for at least a year.  But as an Obama official said last week, “…[I]t’s evident [the Iranians] cannot bring themselves to do the deal” a view confirmed by Alaeddin Borujerdi, a leading Iranian legislator.

In spite of the deal’s failure Obama “…postponed the official announcement on Tehran’s refusal due to internal political reasons,” according to a senior western official quoted by Israel Radio.  Rather, Obama aids expect an official announcement by year’s end and then the president will rally international support for severe sanctions like a gasoline embargo.

But Netanyahu understands the success of severe sanctions depends on Russia’s support, which is doubtful.  Obama likely told Netanyahu about Western plans to entice Russia’s support by offering economic investments to help Moscow’s crippled economy.  That offer likely took place over the weekend in a meeting between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Singapore, where the two attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The bottom line for Obama is he needs Netanyahu’s continued patience because the American’s plate is overflowing with crises – Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, troubled economy and more.  The president does not want to deal with Iranian blowback from an Israeli military strike until it’s absolutely necessary.

But Netanyahu likely argued with Obama that time has run out on Iran.  Diplomacy failed.  Sanctions even with Russian support are doomed and soon Israel’s military option will be more difficult if Russia fulfills its contractual obligation to supply Iran with the sophisticated S-300 air defense system.

At some point in their meeting, Obama reminded Netanyahu about Juniper Cobra, a recent U.S.-Israeli anti-missile exercise which took place in Israel and included thousands of U.S. troops and their sophisticated systems.  Obama used the exercise to illustrate America’s continued commitment to Israel and perhaps he promised to join an eventual military strike once diplomacy and sanctions run their course.  That might explain what Netanyahu meant by the “importance” of the meeting becoming “clear in the future.”