The Region: What Obama faces in Israel
By BARRY RUBIN
So what does Israel want to tell Obama and what is he likely to offer or do on his upcoming visit?
We are told that President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel in late March will focus on Syria and Iran.
So what does Israel want to tell Obama and what is he likely to offer or do? While it’s a bit early to discuss this, it is perhaps useful to prepare for various eventualities.
Presumably, Israel’s leadership will express a consensus view that its main concern is not who governs Syria but how they behave. There’s no sympathy in Israel for the Bashar Assad dictatorship, which has long sponsored terrorism against Israel. In addition, it is widely recognized that the regime’s fall means a defeat for Iran, which would be losing its principal ally.
The situation has also opened gaps between Iran and Turkey, which has been very friendly toward Iran (a point the Obama administration has ignored). And if Israel ever did attack Iranian nuclear installations, an anti-Iran Sunni-ruled Syrian regime is less likely to do anything in response.
In addition to all that, a successful Syrian revolution would weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon, which at the moment is the biggest threat on Israel’s borders (Hamas is more likely to attack but less capable of doing serious damage), and could well mean that the Lebanese terrorist group will be too busy and insecure to renew the kind of attacks seen in 2006 and earlier years.
Yet what will replace the current government of Syria? Israel will stress that it worries about a Muslim Brotherhood regime that will try to step up the conflict with Israel, including backing its own terrorist clients in Lebanon and Gaza.
Another point – which the Obama administration doesn’t seem to comprehend (though some of its officials worry about this) – is that such a regime would be permissive toward Salafist groups wanting to attack Israel across the border, along with a high degree of anarchy in that part of southern Syria, with the same effect.
Israel will also warn that lots of weapons, including some very advanced ones, are pouring into Syria that will not be secured after the civil war ends and that will end in the hands of terrorists to whom they will either be sold, or even given directly by the American-Turkish- Qatari-Saudi strategy. They might point to Libya as an example of this process. Perhaps some future US ambassador to Syria and other operatives will be murdered trying to get some of those weapons back.
The US government will talk about the prospects for democracy in Syria, how the Muslim Brotherhood there is going to be moderate and pragmatic, and how the aim of US policy is to use the Brotherhood to restrain the Salafists.
Israeli officials will be very polite in discussions, and sarcastic when they talk among themselves afterward. The two countries’ interests may not clash, but since the Obama administration isn’t pursuing real American interests, that doesn’t help matters. The United States will help install in Syria a regime that is likely to be hard-line anti- Israel (as opposed to soft-line anti-Israel) that might well form an alliance with Egypt and Hamas, try to destabilize Jordan, and give help and weapons to anti-Israel terrorists.
That might be an improvement over what exists now but if America would help the Syrian moderates that would be far preferable.
Presumably, the US delegation and Obama will emphasize their optimism about negotiations with Teheran and express wishful thinking that the June election will result in a more moderate government after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves office. In other words, they will preach hope and patience.
In addition, they will stress that all options are being kept open and that the United States will never accept Iran having nuclear weapons. How the US government is going to stop this is quite unclear. Personally, I don’t believe that Obama will ever attack Iranian nuclear facilities or support such an Israeli operation.
I’m not saying he should do so; I’m just predicting he won’t do so.
There might also be talk about covert operations, perhaps even based on US-Israel cooperation, and intelligence- gathering efforts on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons.
What’s not clear is how much Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will emphasize the idea of an attack on Iranian facilities. Presumably, he will say that he is happy to give the United States and other Western countries time to try non-military means, including sanctions. He will warn them that negotiations won’t work. He might say something to the effect that Israel will wait out 2013 but when 2014 comes and Iran’s drive continues, that would be the moment for a military response.
The reality is, however, that Obama will continue to deny that his strategy is one of containment. That will go on until Iran gets nuclear weapons and Obama switches to an open containment strategy. It might be too early to discuss – and Israel might not want to do so lest it reduce potential US support for an attack – but it is important to understand that there’s “good containment” and “bad containment.”
On that point I need say only two words: Chuck Hagel.
He will likely be US secretary of defense. Want four more words? John Kerry, John Brennan. They will be secretary of state and CIA chief. The problem of terrible ideas meeting terrible incompetence.
If the United States is going to end up focusing on containing Iran – stopping it from using nuclear weapons or giving them to terrorists – it better be done well. As for containing Iran strategically, the Egyptian and Syrian revolutions are largely doing that job.
At the end of the meeting, everyone will then state publicly that the talks show the continued strength of the US-Israel alliance and that Obama is a great president and a wonderful friend of Israel. Then Obama will return to Washington to get back to the business of installing or helping anti-Israel Islamist governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey; making sure Israel is never too tough against Hamas in the Gaza Strip; and losing credibility with America’s anti-Islamist Arab and other friends.
The author is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center (www.gloria-center.org) and blogs at The Rubin Report (rubinreports.blogspot.com)