Former US Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams said it is unlikely Israel’s leadership will be moved by a string of assurances made by President Obama in an interview with The New York Times on the recently announced nuclear framework agreement with Iran.
“It is hard to believe that many Israelis will be reassured by the interview,” Abrams wrote in a blog for the Council on Foreign Relations, where he is now a senior fellow, “especially not if they read the Iranian press and see what, in their own interviews, Iranian officials are claiming they got out of the new nuclear agreement.”
Abrams, who served in the Republican administrations of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, quoted a number of paragraphs from the interview in which Obama voices sympathy for Israeli concerns over the framework agreement, but said the assurances were far too vague and failed to take into account the full extent of Israel’s grievances.
“Several times in this interview the President went out of his way to suggest that he fully understands Israel’s security problems, but the full text suggests that he does not-because he believes that his statements that ‘if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there’ and would ‘stand by them’ actually solve any of those problems,” Abrams said. “Time alone undermines the value of those statements, because he will not be president in 22 months. The words he used are sufficiently vague to undermine their value as well.”
Abrams quoted Obama extensively, who said, “I have to respect the fears that the Israeli people have, and I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu is expressing the deep-rooted concerns that a lot of the Israeli population feel about this, but what I can say to them is: Number one, this is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, and number two, what we will be doing even as we enter into this deal is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”
In response Abrams questioned, “What does ‘messes with Israel’ mean? No one has the slightest idea. The President unfortunately uses this kind of diction too often, dumbing down his rhetoric for some reason and leaving listeners confused. Today, Iran is sending arms and money to Hamas in Gaza, and has done so for years. Is that ‘messing with Israel?’ Iran has tried to blow up several Israeli embassies, repeating the successful attack it made on Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992. Fortunately Israel has foiled the more recent plots, but is attempting to bomb Israeli embassies ‘messing with Israel?’ Iranian Revolutionary Guards, along with Hezbollah troops, are in southern Syria now near the Golan. Is that ‘messing with Israel?’ And what does the President mean by ‘America will be there?’ With arms? With bandages? With the diplomatic protection his administration is now considering removing at the United Nations?”
Abrams also addressed the President’s promise to stand by Israel if it “were to be attacked by any state” by pointing out that its most immediate enemies are Iran’s terror proxies Hamas and Hezbollah which can’t be classified as states.
Additionally Abrams questioned Obama’s claim that “it has been personally difficult for me to hear … expressions that somehow … this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest.”
Abrams said, “This is the White House whose high officials called the prime minister of Israel a ‘chicken–‘ and a ‘coward,’ in interviews meant to be published-not off the record. And the officials who said those things remain in place; no effort was ever made to identify and discipline them.”
“But,” Abrams concluded, “the deeper problem is that the reassurances the President is offering to Israel…are simply not reassuring. Iran is already, right now, while under sanctions that are badly hurting its economy, spending vast amounts of money and effort to ‘mess with Israel.’ This administration’s reaction has been to seek a nuclear deal that will give Iran more economic resources to dedicate to its hatred and violence against Israel, but will in no way whatsoever limit Iran’s conventional weapons and its support for terrorism.”