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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Obama's Middle East Policy Threatens Israel

By Barry Rubin

Think about this: In thee year 2012 the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Middle East will be governed by radical Islamist regimes that believe in waging jihad on Israel and America, wiping Israel off the map, suppressing Christians, reducing the status of women even more than it is now, and their right as true interpreters of God’s will to govern as dictators. (Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey) President Obama does not see this as a problem.

Recently a reader sent me a note from an Obama supporter responding to some of my articles. He says–like the administration–that Obama has not done a single thing to damage Israel’s security. I have written this response. The other person’s statements are in bold.

–Obama did cause the Palestinians to drop their U.N. maneuver of obtaining statehood without a negotiated peace.
The PA announced they it was going to do this gambit around October 2010. Obama did nothing until almost a year later. He made no threat nor put any pressure on the PA. He had to take this stand or else veto in which case that would have been costly to him in the Arab world for sure. It is good that he did this but it was the absolute minimum, not some great concession to Israel. In other words, the Palestinian Authority broke all of its commitments to negotiate peace with Israel, the Obama Administration did nothing, blamed Israel, and after a year stopped the PA from formally wrecking everything so that we all went back to the previous situation. And this is proof of great support for Israel?

–If Obama was so anti-Israel why did he do that?  
Answer above. For goodness sakes one doesn’t have to be pro-Israel to stop the PA from blowing up the peace process chances forever and messing up U.S. interests. And of course this is about the only thing that Obama has done “for Israel” on a diplomatic level in three years which is why people keep citing it. Indeed, by mentioning this action by Obama his supporters in an indirect way announce how little he has done, that only the most minimal steps can be expected.

It doesn’t matter whether Obama likes Israel or not but only what is his policy and the effects it has. President Richard Nixon did not like Israel but his policy very much supported Israel’s security. Nor is this a matter of whether Obama doesn’t like the Likud or Prime Minister Netanyahu. Nor of whether or not he visits Israel. I don’t think Obama is a Muslim or an antisemite. He simply has policy beliefs that endanger Israel but also all of the moderate people in the Middle East and U.S. interests there.

Basically, the Obama Administration has taken a European-type stand. There are more Muslims than Jews so it is more important to keep the larger group happy. If the U.S. distances itself from Israel they will like America better. There will be no more September11 type incidents. Fewer people will join radical and terrorist groups and will focus more on making their countries better. These are Muslim countries so why shouldn’t Islamists rule? For women to wear a veil isn’t an imposition on freedom but merely a local custom. Even Hillary does it when she’s there. And so on. The problem with this policy isn’t that it is objectively anti-Israel for example but that it misunderstands the situation, won’t work, and will make things worse.
It will not make radicals into moderates or reduce radical recruitment (quite the opposite as we see in Egypt and Tunisia). In fact, it makes radicals more powerful and popular, thus putting Israel into danger, and lots of others, too. It’s as if Russian revolutionaries a century ago were occasionally waging terror attacks on America and the U.S. response was: Let them take over Russia and they’ll stop bothering us. And it will be good for Poland, too!

–I do believe that the Muslim issue is not just Israel v. the rest of the world as you see it.  The United States fears that Muslims around the world will look at the United States as the enemy of Islam thereby causing more terrorist attacks.  By showing that the United States believes that Islam is simply another great religion of the world, Obama hopes that Islam terrorist will not strike as often.  Making the American Muslims feel at home in America is a great way to forward this policy.  
If this were the issue then there would be no problem. But there are different Muslims–Islamists and anti-Islamists. Obama doesn’t just make gestures to Muslims–which would be fine–but to Islamists which is not only against Israel but against most Muslims.

Let me put it this way

Man 1: I want to kill you!

Man 2: Suppose I put down my gun, tell you how much I like you, and I’m no longer friends with  Man 3, your enemy?

Man 1:  I still don’t like you and want to  kill you but now it’s easier. I know you are a coward and believe I’m certain to win.  I can pick up your gun and use it against you. I am sure of success. Oh, and it will also be easier for me to kill Man 3 since I see you don’t like him and thus won’t defend him so well.

Let’s remember what Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad al-Badi said in October 2010 in a speech that signalled the start of the real “Arab Spring.” Remember, Obama was president at that time:
The United States is  “experiencing the beginning of its end and is heading towards its demise….Allah said: ‘The hosts will all be routed and will turn and flee [Koran 54:45].’ This verse is a promise to the believers that they shall defeat their enemies, and [that the enemies] shall withdraw. The Companions of the Prophet received this Koranic promise in Mecca, when they were weak… and a little more than nine years [later], Allah fulfilled his promise in the Battle of Badr…. The United States cannot impose an agreement upon the Palestinians, despite all the means and power at its disposal. [It isn't even trying to do so--BR] it is withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and it is also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan. [All] its warplanes, missiles and modern military technology were defeated by the will of the peoples, as long as [these peoples] insisted on resistance–and [this is proven by] the wars of Lebanon and Gaza.”
Does this sound like a man who will be won over with kindness and concessions? Like a man who will be mellowed by power? No, he and his colleagues will be convinced by power and mass support at the voting booth that victory is near. Thus, as Brotherhood number-one ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi said to a million people in Tahrir Square: On to Jerusalem!

–Because  Rubin assume[s] that every overture to Muslims is an anti-Semitic blow, you have no idea what I am talking about.
That’s ridiculous  and insulting and anyone who reads my work knows so. Of course, being nice to Muslims is not a zero-sum game for Israel.  The problem is being nice to radical Muslims. Incidentally the Saudi and Jordanian and Gulf Arab governments plus the real democratic oppositions in Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and other countries–almost all Muslims themselves–are horrified about what the Obama administration is doing and I have had dozens of conversations to that effect with a wide variety of people.

I will add that Americans still don’t understand the implications of Obama’s Cairo speech. The problem was not that it was “pro-Islam” but that it was pro-Islamist and anti-Arab nationalist. He told Muslims that Islam should be their primary identity. You must understand how this came off in the Arab world. Why would, for example, the Egyptian government be horrified by a “pro-Muslim” speech? They were horrified because they understood–especially when Obama invited Muslim Brotherhood leaders–that Obama was (whether he knew it or not) challenging the whole basis of the Arab regional order.

--Your entire view that Israel is in trouble because of Obama has never been explained by Rubin. What specific policy of the current presidency is endangering Israel?

I have written about this dozens of times. The problem is that there are people who just don’t want to hear. The only way they can maintain their beliefs is to pretend there is no evidence against them. But here’s a list:

1. His support for the overthrow of the entire Egyptian system, thus inevitably bringing about a situation in which the Egyptians had a government dedicated to Israel’s destruction and to supporting anti-Israel terrorism. He rejected State Department advice to try to limit the damage by changing the leadership and not the entire regime. The idea that the U.S. government didn’t control events is correct; the idea that it couldn’t and didn’t influence them is nonsense.

2. His long engagement with Iran that wasted around two years and emboldened the Tehran regime. This strengthened Iran and its regional influence as forces concluded that the United States feared Iran and dared not confront it or try to stop it.

3. His long engagement with Syria which ended only because of a full-scale revolt there.

4. His closeness to the Turkish regime despite that country’s hostility to Israel. U.S. policy has demoralized the Turkish opposition, persuaded Turkish voters that the regime’s policy had no cost for the country’s international interests, and emboldened the Islamist regime to be more aggressive against both Israel and U.S. interests.

5. His statements that he had no problem with the Muslim Brotherhood being in power in Egypt and the soft line he took toward that organization made it seem to people in that country, and in Tunisia as well, that the United States was endorsing the Brotherhood. This demoralized the moderates and swayed some votes in that direction while also making the Europeans believe they could also deal with the Brotherhood’s. Israel’s warnings that this endangered its security thus have fallen on deaf ears.
6. His pressure on Israel to reduce sanctions on the Gaza Strip to the absolute minimum–in response to the mere sending of a half-dozen small blockade-busting ships and what amounted to a minor confrontation–greatly strengthened and emboldened Hamas, helping to ensure its survival so that it can launch wars and subversion against Israel in future.
7. His support for the construction of a Syrian opposition leadership in which a majority of members are Islamists, managed by Islamist Turkey of all governments! This might lead to a future Islamist regime in Syria when that outcome was otherwise avoidable. Such a regime would pose a dire threat to Israel, especially in combination with allied Brotherhood-dominated Islamist regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and the Gaza Strip.
8. His failure to criticize or pressure the PA and never to blame it–but only Israel–for stagnation in the peace process. Thus, the PA had no need to compromise or return to the bargaining table or to reduce incitement to terrorism and the protection of terrorists. With the president of the United States saying that Israel was responsible for the lack of peace, many other institutions, countries, and people followed suit.

9. His initial rejection of a previous president’s promise that Israel could keep settlement blocs in a comprehensive peace agreement. This showed Israel that it could not trust Obama and his promises.

10. His breaking the US agreement that Israel could continue building in Jerusalem during the settlement freeze. See point 9.

11. His failure to acknowledge Israeli concessions and efforts to get talks ith the PA going. See point 9.

12. His soft stand in practice regarding the PA-Hamas cooperation.This locked the PA into an even more intransigent position and strengthened Hamas.

13. His failure to back the democratic Iranian opposition when the election was stolen. This missed a chance to weaken the Iranian regime which has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors anti-Israel subversion and terrorism.

14. His administration’s puerile claims that the problem is that Israel is isolating itself when the plethora of new Islamist regimes is the cause of the problem Israel is facing. This shows administration thinking that if revolutionary Islamists take power it is up to Israel to appease them. The radicals are shown that the United States does not really support Israel (they are far harder to fool than many Americans and American Jews) and thus they can escalate their hostility and attacks on Israel without fear of an American response.

15. His announcement of a new policy on the conditions for peace without consulting Israel when PM Netanyahu was actually on a plane headed to Washington. These and other actions of showing contempt and disrespect for Netanyahu are not merely personal quirks but weaken Israel’s security by showing the world that the U.S. government does not stand behind Israel. It signals that enemies are safer in attacking Israel, that continued pressure can even further reduce U.S. support, and shows European states that Washington won’t mind if they also become more hostile.

16. His statement about Israel returning to the 1967 borders with territorial swaps. Not because he advocated those borders but because he advocated that Israel withdraw from the territory before any actual deal was made. This undercut Israel’s future bargaining position and further reduced any chance of PA flexibility.

17. Similarly, Obama’s introduction of the idea that a freeze on all new construction on settlements must stop before negotiations can be held outbid the PA position. From that point on, this became the PA’s minimal demand–which it had never been before–thus making it even harder to restart talks now or in future.  Again, it allowed the PA to refuse to talk while still enjoying the advantage that Israel was blamed for the lack of talks. It weakened Israel’s position since that country’s signing of the 1993 accord with the PLO was party conditioned on the ability to continuing building on settlements.
18. His failure to keep the promises made to Israel about UNIFIL keeping Hizballah from returning to southern Lebanon and building up military fortifications there, to stop arms’ smuggling from Syria to Hizballah. This has greatly strengthened Hizballah, making war more likely and Hizballah’s ability to inflict higher numbers of casualties on Israel more likely.

19. The NATO operation in Libya that did not deal with the identity of the armed opposition and has set in motion an Islamist regime in Libya. The failure to act in order to prevent vast amounts of Libyan weapons, including anti-aircraft systems, to Hamas.

20. His policy, statements, and behavior signalling weakness which emboldened radical forces and demoralized moderate Arabs. This is a general point covering the many speeches by Obama and other administration officials to this effect. When countries see that Israel has lost (or if you prefer is losing) its main protector what effect do you think this has on the strategic situation?

21. His policy of not letting government officials talk about the threat of revolutionary Islamism has underrated that threat and reduced support for the kind of understanding and measures required by Israel’s security. Since revolutionary Islamism is the main threat against Israel’s security by saying, in effect, that this threat doesn’t exist Obama undercuts Israel’s ability to mobilize support and take actions in self-defense.

22. His administration’s encouragement of J Street has been an attempt to split and subvert American Jewish support for Israel. American Jewish support for Israel is an important strategic asset. The administration has reduced this asset.

23. His disrespectful treatment of Netanyahu during the prime minister’s visit to Washington and his caustic remarks caught on microphone display Obama’s personal dislike for the democratically elected leader of Israel. Again, this signals the “wolves” that the “shepherd” doesn’t care if they take a few bites out of the herd. What do you think the effect is of such things in, say, Tehran?

24. The fact that his secretary of state can speak openly about supposed fears about the future of democracy and women’s rights in Israel (especially when coupled with the absence of such reflections regarding revolutionary Islamists) signals to Americans that they should be more critical of Israel and unfairly characterizes that country as not worth defending (or at least less legitimate and worth defending).

25. His administration’s refusal to deal honestly with the problem of Muslim antisemitism (the most significant aspect of antisemitism in the world today) again undercuts Israel’s posture as the victim of attacks and delegitimization. The remarks of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, even if criticized by the White House, is perfectly in line with Obama policy. If, as the ambassador said, Israel retaliation (for attacks on Israel) is a major cause of antisemitism then Israel defending itself is the cause of its own problems. In other words, Israel shouldn’t defend itself.

26. He and his administration have used their considerable influence with the mass media to ignore and understate Israel’s needs and concerns while building up criticism and antagonism toward that country.

27. He did not engage in the battle to keep UNESCO from admitting Palestine as a state nor has his administration really confronted–beyond the minimum–the constant UN attacks on Israel especially in the Human Rights Council which his administration decided to rejoin.

[Readers are welcome to let me know points I have missed.]

My fingers are getting tired and I will stop there but I could go on for some time. Now, do you still not know what Obama’s administration has done that has created problems for Israel?

What is the effect of Obama’s policy on Obama’s support base? To create an insanity like this in which a New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, who hates Israel decides that the Muslim Brotherhood are great people. After all, he had dinner with them and they were nice to him and didn’t bite. By criticizing Israel and whitewashing Islamists who want to commit genocide on the Jews, the president is laying down this kind of line.  Let’s remember as Kristof has desert with the Brotherhood family the words of Qaradawi in January 2009, as Obama was being inaugurated:

“The only thing that I hope for is that as my life approaches its end, Allah will give me an opportunity to go to the land of Jihad and resistance, even if in a wheelchair. I will shoot Allah’s enemies, the Jews, and they will throw a bomb at me, and thus, I will seal my life with martyrdom. Praise be to Allah.”
Guess that must be the after-dinner entertainment.

Let me make this 100 percent clear: I am not criticizing Obama’s Middle East policy because I want him defeated in the 2012 election, I want him defeated in the 2012 election because of his Middle East policy (and so do a heck of a lot of Arabs, Iranians, and Turks).

On the other hand, one often realizes in these situations that there is some kind of pathology involved and not just a debate on the facts. After all, this person could easily have said: I understand why people think Obama is not so supportive of Israel but let me give you a long list of factors on the other side….

Instead, we have as so often happens: You don’t have a single reason for thinking Obama isn’t the most supportive president for Israel in history. You are just a right-wing extremist who hates Muslims….

What has Obama done right in the Middle East? Not a lot but some things. He has maintained the military and intelligence components of the U.S.-Israel relations. I don’t have any major criticisms of his policy toward Iraq. He appeared to learn that he wasn’t going to make a quick breakthrough to Israel-Palestinian peace. He finally got around to pushing for more sanctions on Iran and is positioning early warning and anti-missile defenses in the Gulf Arab states. And he did eventually deal with the PA’s UN bid. That’s about it, I think.

In other words, the need to support Obama is a categorical imperative and no amount of evidence will lead to a change. Indeed, evidence is frightening because the person becomes more and more fearful that his support for Obama might be slipping so he has to respond with an angry defensiveness, lashing out at the tempter who wants to steal his soul with growing anger and hatred.

As for the case of this particular interlocutor, he simply denied every point I made claiming, for example, that the Obama Administration had no influence whatsoever on events in Egypt. If that’s true why did Obama make the Cairo speech, shoot down the State Department initiative to help manage a more modest change, publicly state that he would accept the Muslim Brotherhood in power, and whitewash the Brotherhood’s democratic, onviolent, and moderate credentials?

One can engage in such fantasies that Obama is a great supporter of Israel in the United States but not in Israel. Similarly, the Saudis, Jordanians and the real democratic forces in places like Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, and now even Syria have no illusions that the Obama Administration is their friend either.

Of course, Americans, even American Jews, are perfectly free to say: Sure Obama is undermining Israel’s security but I don’t care because I like him on other issues! For example, he’s doing a terrific job on the economy and creating lots of jobs. And his new healthcare system is really wonderful!
But that’s not the kind of thing most Jewish supporters of Obama want to admit, to themselves much less to anyone else. And then if they had to consider that Obama’s foreign policy also damages U.S. security, too. Oy, vey!

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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