There it is: four more years of Barack Obama. What does it mean for Israel?
The bilateral talks with Iran run by Valerie Jarrett will continue. One can hope for the best, but it is very unlikely that an agreement will be reached that will include the effective dismantling of Iran’s bomb-building capability. It’s not at all comforting to think that Israel’s security will be in the hands of Jarrett, Obama’s Chicago fixer. One can speculate what Romney might have done differently, but that is not an option now.
It’s certain that the Iranian regime will not abandon the goal which will bring it geopolitical primacy in the region and for which it has striven (and its people have suffered) mightily, except if it is forced to do so by a credible threat of force. Will Obama make such a threat? What if the Iranians call his bluff? Will he be prepared to take action that would triple the price of oil, and destroy any chance of success for his domestic agenda? Will he be prepared to risk American lives in what would be called a “war for Israel?”
He will make a deal, a deal that will be satisfactory for the US and for Iran. For the US, it will have to appear as though the Iranian program has been derailed, or at least put on hold for the foreseeable future (a few years, in today’s world). For Iran, it will have to allow the regime to continue to put the pieces together to allow a rapid breakout as a nuclear power. It will naturally include a relaxation of economic pressure on Iran — the only thing more important for the regime than getting nuclear weapons is staying in power.
As far as Israel is concerned, nothing is as important as the Iranian question. It’s unlikely that a US-Iran deal will satisfy Israel, because Israel is not at the table. The question originally posed by Ehud Barak will remain: when will Iran enter the “zone of immunity,” when will it reach the point that no practical Israeli action can prevent the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons? The deal may change the point at which this occurs, but it will not change the logic of the situation.
The deal will bring prestige to the Iranian regime — it will be played as though Iran forced the Great Satan to blink — and will improve their economy, thus making regime change less likely. Obama may have succeeded in holding off an Israeli strike against Iran so far, but it is still almost certain to occur.
I doubt that Obama will do much about the Palestinian issue the short term. He must understand by now that there is simply no overlap between Israeli and Palestinian positions of such things as refugees, Jerusalem and the continued existence of a Jewish state. On the other hand, there is a danger that unfettered by electoral considerations, he and his advisers will give free rein to their undisguised pro-Palestinian ideology, and move even further in their direction. I think it’s harder to predict what the administration will do in this area, because it is almost entirely determined by ideology, and not perceived interests. The administration does not appear to see the fate of Israel as especially relevant to practical US interests.
I do expect continued pressure for ‘regime change’ in Israel. Obama apparently feels that PM Netanyahu is an obstacle, and will do his best to help the opposition. His poorly-hidden dislike and disrespect for Israel’s Prime Minister is remarkable, especially compared with his attitude toward other foreign leaders, especially Islamists like Turkey’s Erdogan and Egypt’s Morsi — not to mention his remarkable obeisance to the king of Saudi Arabia, one of the countries whose political ideology and human-rights behavior is about as far from American ideals as can be imagined.
In these areas, I think a Romney victory would have made a significant difference. Romney clearly understands the Palestinian lack of interest in coexistence — he explained it eloquently at one point — and apparently has a warm relationship with PM Netanyahu. He does not appear to share the academic leftist view that characterizes the Obama Administration, one in which Israel plays the role of a colonial power, and the main cause of conflict is Palestinian ‘rights’ rather than Arab rejectionism. But again, this is not an option now.
No, now the option for Israel is to expect very little from the administration, to prepare for the day that there is no alternative but to strike Iran, to assert its rights in the territories (in part by adopting the Levy report) and Jerusalem, to continue to insist on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and an end to the fantastical demand for ‘right of return’ as conditions for any agreement with the Palestinians. Now is not the time for Israel to demonstrate flexibility in return for good will, because it will not get good will from this administration.