The Truth About Obama and Israel
By HAIM SABAN
Published: September 4, 2012Facebook
AS an Israeli-American who cares deeply about the survival of Israel and the future of the Jewish people, I will be voting for President Obama in November. Here’s why.
Even though he could have done a better job highlighting his friendship for Israel, there’s no denying that by every tangible measure, his support for Israel’s security and well-being has been rock solid.
Mitt Romney claims Mr. Obama has “thrown allies like Israel under the bus,” but in fact the president has taken concrete steps to make Israel more secure — a commitment he has described as “not negotiable.”
When he visited Israel as a candidate he saw firsthand how vulnerable Israeli villagers were to rocket attacks from Gaza. As president, he responded by providing full financing and technical assistance for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket defense system, which is now protecting those villagers. In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation.
When the first President Bush had disagreements with Israel over its settlement policy, he threatened to withhold loan guarantees from Israel. Mr. Obama has had his own disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu over the settlers but has never taken such a step. To the contrary, he has increased aid to Israel and given it access to the most advanced military equipment, including the latest fighter aircraft.
Ask any senior Israeli official involved in national security, and he will tell you that the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger than under President Obama. “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us,” the defense minister, Ehud Barak, said last year, “than what we have right now.”
That cooperation has included close coordination by intelligence agencies — including the deployment of cyberweapons, as recent news reports have revealed — to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Romney conveniently neglects to mention that Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, diverted American attention from Iran — the greatest threat to Israel’s existence — to Iraq, even helping to put a pro-Iranian leader in power in Baghdad. In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”
Mr. Romney has never explained how he would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; Mr. Obama not only has declared that all options are on the table, but he has also taken the option of merely “containing” a nuclear-armed Iran off the table. He has directed the military to prepare options for confronting Iran and has positioned forces in the Persian Gulf to demonstrate his resolve.
Israel necessarily has a thinner margin of security than the United States, given differences in size, geography and military capabilities. Iran’s leaders are not threatening to destroy the United States, but their threats to destroy Israel must be taken seriously. As Iran approaches the nuclear weapons threshold, Israel’s nervousness is understandable. But Mr. Obama has assured Mr. Netanyahu that he will “always have Israel’s back.” Americans who support Israel should take the president at his word.
Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
So what’s the case against Mr. Obama? That he hasn’t visited Israel since he was a candidate in 2008? Perhaps these critics have forgotten that George W. Bush, that great friend of Israel, didn’t visit Jerusalem until his seventh year in office.
Yes, Mr. Obama should have gone there, especially after his 2009 speech in Cairo, addressed to the Arab world. He should have showered Israelis with more love and affection. He could have done more to allay Israel’s worries that there might one day be an American president who would take a different approach to the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular; Mr. Obama should have made it clear he isn’t that president.
But as John Adams said, facts are stubborn things. The facts back up the president’s staunch support of Israel — facts that even $100 million from a casino magnate can’t refute. (Full disclosure: I have contributed to Democratic campaigns this political cycle, though not nearly to that extent.)
When I enter the voting booth, I’m going to ask myself, what do I prefer for Israel and its relationship with the United States: meaningful action or empty rhetoric? To me the answer is clear: I’ll take another four years of Mr. Obama’s steadfast support over Mr. Romney’s sweet nothings.