US President Barack Obama's rapidly changing positions on Syria have produced many odd spectacles.
of odder ones was the sight of hundreds of lobbyists from the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee fanning out on Capitol Hill to lobby
members of the House and Senate to support Obama's plan to launch what
Secretary of State John Kerry called "unbelievably small" air strikes
against empty regime controlled buildings in Syria.
AIPAC officials claimed they were doing this because the air strikes would help Israel.
this claim was easily undone. Obama and Kerry insisted nothing the US
would do would have any impact on the outcome of the Syrian civil war.
This was supposed to be the strikes' selling point. But by launching
worthless strikes, Obama was poised to wreck America's deterrent
posture, transforming the world's superpower into an international joke.
harming America's deterrent capabilities by speaking loudly and
carrying an "unbelievably small" stick, Kerry and Obama also harmed
Israel's deterrent posture.
Israel's deterrence relies in no small measure on its strategic alliance with the US.
Once the US is no longer feared, a key part of Israeli deterrence is removed.
did not announce his intention to bomb empty buildings in Syria in
order to impact the deterrent posture of either the US or Israel. He
probably gave them little thought. The only one who stood to gain from
those strikes - aside from Syrian President Bashar Assad who would earn
bragging rights for standing down the US military - was Obama himself.
wanted to launch the unbelievably small strikes to prove that he wasn't
lying when he said that Syria would cross a red line if it used
So if the strikes were going
to harm the US and Israel, why did AIPAC dispatch its lobbyists to
Capitol Hill to lobby in favor of them?
Because Obama made them.
ordered AIPAC to go to Capitol Hill to lobby for the Syria strikes. He
did so knowing that its involvement would weaken public support for
AIPAC and Israel. Both would be widely perceived as pushing the US to
send military forces into harm's way to defend Israel.
with hundreds of AIPAC lobbyist racing from one Congressional office to
the next, Obama left them in a lurch. He announced he was cutting a
deal with Russia and had decided not to attack Syria after all.
What did AIPAC get for its self-defeating efforts on Obama's behalf?
is now courting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the hopes of making
a deal that Iran will use as cover for completing its nuclear weapons
program. Such a deal may well involve ending sanctions on Iran's oil
exports and its central bank - sanctions that AIPAC expended years of
effort getting Congress to pass.
And that's not
all. Monday, as Obama meets with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at
the UN General Assembly in New York, Vice President Joe Biden will
become the highest ranking administration official to date to address
the J Street conference.
J Street was formed in
order to weaken AIPAC, and force it to the left. Sending Biden to
headline at the J Street conference is an act of aggression against
AIPAC. It also signals that Obama remains committed to strengthening the
anti-Israel voices at the margins of the American Jewish community at
the expense of the pro- Israel majority.
The question is why is AIPAC cooperating with Obama as he abuses it? Why didn't they just say no?
Because they couldn't.
AIPAC is not strong enough to stand up to the president of the United States, particularly one as hostile as Obama.
only would it have suffered direct retaliation for its refusal, Obama
would have also punished Israel for its friend's recalcitrance.
a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Eitan Haber, late prime
minister Yitzhak Rabin's closest aide, made the case that Israel is
powerless in the face of White House pressure. Haber claimed that only
when a person becomes prime minister does he understand "to what extent
the State of Israel is dependent on America. For absolutely
everything... we are dependent on America."
noted that the US can collapse every aspect of Israel. From this he
concluded that no Israeli leader can stand up to Washington.
recalled a menacing conversation Rabin had with then-US secretary of
state James Baker during which Baker became angry at Rabin.
"America is right even when it is wrong," Baker admonished the Israeli leader.
warned that Israel cannot stand up to the US even when the US is
behaving in a manner that endangers Israel. "It's possible that they
don't understand the region and that they are naïve and stupid," he
said, "But they are America."
Haber was right
that that the White House can destroy Israel's economy, defenses and
diplomatic position any time it wishes. In the past administration
threats of economic sanctions or delays in sending spare parts for
weapons platforms have been sufficient to make Israeli leaders fall into
For the past five and a half years Obama
has dangled US diplomatic support at the UN Security Council over
Israel's head like the Sword of Damocles.
forced Netanyahu to make concession after concession to secure his veto
of the PLO's request that the UN Security Council accept "Palestine" as
a member state two years ago. Netanyahu's sudden support for
Palestinian statehood and his 10- month long freeze on Jewish property
rights in Judea and Samaria were the most public concessions he was
forced to cough up.
The timing of the EU
announcement that it was barring EU entities from forging ties with
Israelis that operate beyond the 1949 armistice lines was revealing in
this context. The EU announced its economic sanctions the day Kerry
announced the start of negotiations between Israel and the PLO. The
message to Israel was absolutely clear: Do what we order you to or you
will face economic sanctions far more damaging.
appointment of Samantha Power to serve as US ambassador to the UN was
another signal of ill intent. Power became the object of fear and fury
for Israel supporters after YouTube videos of a 2002 interview she gave
went viral during the 2008 elections. In that interview Power called for
the US to send "a mammoth protection force" to Israel to protect the
Palestinians from "genocide" that Israel would commit. That is, she
called for the US to go to war against Israel to protect the
Palestinians from a nonexistent threat maliciously attributed to the
only human rights-respecting state in the Middle East.
just after his reelection, Obama sent Power to the epicenter of
international blood libels and attempts to outlaw the Jewish state.
deal with Russia President Vladimir Putin was also a signal of
aggression, if not an act of aggression in and of itself. The ink had
barely dried on their unenforceable agreement that leaves Iran's Arab
client in power, when Putin turned his guns on Israel. As Putin put it,
Syria only developed its chemical arsenal "as an alternative to the
nuclear weapons of Israel."
administration itself has a track record in putting Israel's presumptive
nuclear arsenal on the international diplomatic chopping block. In 2010
Netanyahu was compelled to cancel his participation in Obama's nuclear
weapons conference when he learned that Egypt and Turkey intended to use
Obama's conference to demand that Israel sign the Nuclear Non-
demonstrates his bad intentions. So Israelis and our American supporters
need to ask whether Haber is right. Is Israel powerless in the face of a
hostile US administration?
Let's reconsider Obama's decision to turn to AIPAC for support on Syria.
Why did he do that? Why did he turn to an organization he wishes to harm and order it to go to the mattresses for him?
Obama turned to AIPAC primarily because AIPAC could help him. AIPAC hold sway on Capitol Hill.
Where does that power come from? Does AIPAC wield influence because it frightens members into submission?
is powerful because it serves as a mouthpiece for the overwhelming
majority of Americans. The American people support Israel. If something
will help Israel, then most Americans will support it. Obama wanted
Congressional support. He couldn't win it on the merits of his feckless
plan. So he sent in AIPAC to pretend that his strikes would benefit
Obama's demand that AIPAC help him is reality's response to Haber's protestations of Israeli powerlessness.
alliance with the US, upon which it is so dependent, was not built with
America's political or foreign policy elites. Saudi Arabia's alliance
with the US was built on such ties.
alliance with the US is built on the American public's support for
Israel. And although Obama himself doesn't need to face American voters
again, his Democratic colleagues do. Moreover, even lame duck presidents
cannot veer too far away from the national consensus.
is because of this consensus that Obama has to send signals to Israel -
like the EU sanctions, and Power's appointment to the UN - rather than
openly part ways with Jerusalem.
powerful. And he threatens Israel. But Israel is not as powerless as
Haber believes. Israel can make its case to the American public.
And assuming the American people support Israel's case, Obama's freedom of action can be constrained.
instance, on the Palestinian issue, Haber said Israel has to accept
whatever Obama says. But that isn't true. Netanyahu can set out the
international legal basis for Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria
and explain why Israel's rights are stronger than the Palestinians'.
government can expose the fact that the demographic doomsday scenario
that forms the basis of support for the two-state formula is grounded on
falsified data concocted by the PLO.
Demography, like international law, is actually one of Israel's strategic assets.
Then there is Iran.
Netanyahu to defy Obama and order the IDF to attack Iran's nuclear
installations, he would be pushing the boundaries of the US political
consensus less than Menachem Begin did when he ordered the air force to
destroy Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. He would also be pushing the US
consensus less than Rabin did when he embraced Yasser Arafat in 1993.
No, Israel cannot say no to everything that Obama wishes to do in the Middle East.
yes, it needs to make concessions where it can to placate the White
House. AIPAC's decision to take a bullet for Obama on Syria may have
been the better part of wisdom.
three-and-a-half more years with Obama. They won't be easy. And there is
no telling who will succeed him. But this needn't be a catastrophe. Our
cards are limited. But we have cards. And if we play them wisely, we
will be fine.