Obama and Israel: Hot or Cold?


obama-netanyahuIs the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel close or cold? According to Eli Lake, writing in the most recent issue of Newsweek, it is both. Lake, in reporting the apparent delivery of “bunker-buster” bombs by the US to Israel, provides additional substance to an argument often made by defenders of the administration’s approach to Israel: that despite any strains in the political relationship over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, U.S.-Israel military and security ties have never been stronger.

That the military-to-military relationship is strong is not in dispute — it has been growing broader and deeper for many years, and the Obama Administration has maintained this trajectory. That the strength of this relationship attests to the good health of the U.S.-Israel alliance, however, is questionable.

The ties between the US and Israel are based on many things, not least a deep historical and cultural affinity. However, those ties are also based on shared strategic interests. The United States provides military assistance to Israel not out of charity, but because it is in our interest to do so (indeed, this is the rationale behind most foreign assistance). Israel is a powerful, competent, and cooperative partner in a region of the world that is vital to American security and prosperity. Our assistance not only protects Israel, but also provides for our common defense against threats such as Iran’s nuclear and missile program and transnational terrorist groups. These threats and Israel’s cooperation in dealing with them are not merely hypothetical, as demonstrated by the Israeli strike on Syria’s clandestine nuclear program in 2007. We seek to safeguard Israel’s security in order to advance our own.

Providing for Israel’s security, however, involves more than good military-to-military ties. It also requires a good political relationship, for two reasons. First, the threats faced by the United States and Israel (and our other allies) in the Middle East have both political and military dimensions, and often the former are more important than the latter. Frequent, close, and candid political contacts are vital in any alliance for dealing with potential threats (and capitalizing on opportunities) before they metastasize into matters that must be dealt with by generals. Second, many of the steps the United States would like Israel to take (or, in some cases, refrain from taking) would be eased by the assurance of strong U.S. backing for Israel, whether at the United Nations or in regional and global capitals. As is the case throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, our political and security relations with Israel are inextricable.

Many observers have suggested that our military support for Israel should be traded for Israeli concessions in the peace process (indeed, this was the implicit bargain offered by the United States to Israel in November 2010 — military hardware in exchange for an extension of the settlement freeze). This sort of zero-sum thinking has a simplistic appeal, but does not stand up to the rigors of the real world. A more patient and nuanced approach views our security relationship with Israel — and indeed our regional security efforts — and advancing the peace process as mutually reinforcing. The reasons are simple: first, an Israel both consumed with external threats and worried about the reliability of U.S. backing is one which will hunker down, not take risks for peace; second, to the extent Israel and its neighbors are focused on similar threats, such as Iran and terrorism, our efforts to counter those threats can serve as a rare point of cooperation, even if implicit, among them and improve the regional political atmosphere.

The United States should not be uncritical of Israel, nor should we expect that we will not have differences, including publicly, with Israeli leaders. The reality of any alliance is that however extensively overlapping our interests, they are not identical. But we should treat those differences — as we do with other close allies — as obstacles to be overcome as we pursue a close and cooperative military and political relationship. We should not allow them to define the relationship, much less highlight them in the vain hope of winning the esteem of Israel’s foes.

{Foreign Policy/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Regarding Israel, we can expect Obama to do publicly whatever will help, or at least not hurt, his re-election chances. In private, he and his people are likely to do whatever they can to advance the Palestinian Arab cause.

    Any pundit’s predictions that do not take the election or Obama’s true sympathies into account is flawed.

    On the whole, I would not trust much that is published in Newsweek. Maybe the table of contents is accurate.

  2. comment # 1 is not a reflection of the documentary record.

    The differences between Bush and Obama on Israel and the Palestinians are ZERO as documented here and elsewhere.



    What IS HUGELY different is the hypocritical REACTIONS ( based on purposeful propaganda or alternatively, ignorance) of groups to anything Obama says regarding the Isr./Pal issue. In the case of the Republicans, their reactions ( or non reaction– as was hypocritically the case of the Republicans under Bush) lead the liberal corporate maintstream media to sensationalize the issue as though there are two real legitimate sides to the story- they present one side as a Republican -Likud- pro-Zionism sentiment( and other allies that are registered Democrats or who say they are not Republicans) vs. the other side which is an Obama and largely Democrat pro-Palestinian sentiment that doesnt recognize the American -Israel special relationship.

    In fact the rhetorical charges defy the public documented record: BUSH INSTITUTED -OR CONTINUED – AND EVENTUALLY PRESSURED ISRAEL ON EVERY POLICY that Obama now advocates as well.

    These two links are good clean places to see the PUBLIC DOCUMENTARY RECORD WITHOUT EMOTING SPIN.



    GW Bush said on May 26, 2005 in the Rose Garden with Abbas at the public and televised press conference:

    GW BUSH: “Any Final Status Agreement Must Be Reached Between The Two Parties, And Changes To The 1949 Armistice Lines Must Be Mutually Agreed To.”

    [The Olmert- Bush Final Settlement Offer to Abbas: ] “August 31, 2008, three weeks before he resigned, he offered 100 percent of West Bank land ( 6.8% in land swaps), 10,000 Palestinian refugees returning to Israel’s final borders, and the holy basin of Jerusalem’s Old City coming under joint Israeli-Palestinian-American- Jordanian-Saudi control. He last met with Abbas on September 16 of that year – five days before he resigned, and more than six months before he left office – and Abbas did not respond or make a counteroffer.” http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=218340

    President George Bush bragged about his brokering this offer to Abbas -that included Internationalizing East Jerusalem- in his “Decision Points” memoirs.

    Condi Rice January 8, 2008 On the eve of US President George W. Bush’s visit to Israel and the region, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice placed the issue of settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem at center stage, telling The Jerusalem Post that “Har Homa is a settlement the United States has opposed from the very beginning.” Rice said that “the United States doesn’t make a distinction” between settlement activity in “East Jerusalem and the West Bank” and that Israel’s Road Map obligations [ ed;due to Bush creating and forcing the RoadMap on Israel], which includes a total building freeze, relate to “settlement activity generally.”
    Rice’s comments underlined that the settlement issue will be high on the agenda of the talks between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=88107





    GW Bush said on May 26, 2005 in the Rose Garden with Abbas at the press conference:
    GW BUSH: “Any Final Status Agreement Must Be Reached Between The Two Parties, And Changes To The 1949 Armistice Lines Must Be Mutually Agreed To.”

    [ transcript: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050526.html ] Arutz Sheva Article May 29, 2005

    Article Title: “News Analysis: Bush Policy Pushes Israel Back to 1949 Armistice ” Arutzsheva.com

  3. how did this happen?


    Perhaps the Jews-against-Obama storyline has hit its high-water mark.
    Ed Koch, citing Obama’s speech to the United Nations and an invitation to a “fun” event with the president, writes today:
    The President should be praised for intervening with the Egyptian army to save the Israeli diplomatic personnel from physical assault and providing the Israeli military with bunker buster bombs, advanced military technology and providing military intelligence cooperation far exceeding his predecessors. I’m now on board the Obama Reelection Express.



  4. To say that Obama is a real problem now is not to let GW Bush off the hook. Clearly, those Bush policies that hurt Israel should have been abandoned by Obama, not amplified.

  5. Mr. Obama seems to have an unbiased Liberal viewpoint. So with this, I believe he is a just judge of propriety and he does in fact love the righteous and upright. If Mr. Obama criticizes Israel I will listen up and wonder if I should fall down on my hands and knees like Moses did when Korach criticized his leadership. Obviously in that case there must be a concern that it might be righteous criticism.
    Mr. Obama leads in a way that few have lead in the years gone by- with a minimum of corruption. And I admire his office and believe his terms are just.