Did Barack Obama sabotage Israel this week? Does Obama plan to work actively against Israel if he wins re-election? Many observers and commentators say “Yes” (or in Hebrew, Ken). And though Israel’s government won’t say so out loud, the observers do. But whether Obama is guilty or not, depends largely on where some of the clues come from.
The Israel-Azeri pact
Two days ago, Mark Perry published this article in Foreign Policy saying that Israel had gained a “secret staging ground” in Azerbaijan. (Melanie Philips, writing at Mail Online, calls Perry a “former unofficial Yasser Arafat adviser and established Israel-basher.” Perry quoted four anonymous US intelligence officials as saying,
Israel bought an airfield, and [its name is] Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan would be the perfect place for an advance base. The bases in question are leftovers from the time that Azerbaijan had the name Azerbaiyanya Sovyetskaya Sotsialistichyeskaya Respublika. They lie southeast of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. Baku lies 300 miles away from Teheran. Those bases would be even closer. The Israel Air Force could easily stage out of those bases, or land at them afterward to refuel and rearm. If they could do the latter, they could even hit Iran again.
Furthermore, Azerbaijan has a motive. Iran has its own population of Azeris who live south of the border. Perry accused the Azeris of wanting to reclaim that territory. Irredentism (a wish to “redeem” land on the far side of a border when members of a particular ethnic group live on that far side, or once controlled it and then “lost” it) can work both ways. If the Azeris want a piece of northern Iran, then Iran probably wants Azerbaijan. In fact, those two countries have traded charges of spying and counterspying. The Azeris arrested 22 suspected Iranian spies, and the Iranians accused the Azeris of helping the Israelis (as they suppose) kill some Iranian nuclear and rocket scientists.
After Perry published his piece, the Azeris flatly denied that they would let Israel stage out of those bases on any mission whatever. (Source: Agence France-Presse.) Perry slightly revised his article to say that the Israel Air Force could merely use the bases to refuel, so that the Azeris would be technically truthful while lying in spirit.
Did Obama give out this information?
Barack H. Obama. Photo: Pete Souza, January 13, 2009
Perry insisted that he had his information from an American diplomatic cable. This, he said, was part of the Wikileaks treasure trove. But Ron Ben-Yishai, writing in YNet, says that the leak came from the Obama administration, not from Wikileaks or any other illicit venue:
The first and most important American objective is to eliminate potential operational options available to the IDF and the State of Israel. I have no intention of detailing or even hinting to the options which the US government aims to eliminate by exposing them in the media. A large part of the reports stem from false information or disinformation, and there is no reason to reveal to the Iranians what’s real and what isn’t. However, it is blatantly clear that reports in the past week alone have caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage.
Brad Knickerbocker, at The Christian Science Monitor, said something similar. He relied most heavily on former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who said much the same as Ben-Yishai said.
Today, Melanie Philips, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the author of the Fresno Zionism blog, all complained that Barack Obama has spoken of friendship with Israel in his public speeches, but harmed Israel behind its back. Last week that last commentator noticed this disturbing report of a war game based on an Israeli attack on Iran. According to this game, if Israel and Iran go to war, America would inevitably be in it, with hundreds of casualties. Laying aside whether America would have to fight Iran directly, that report can have only one goal: to make ordinary citizens in Israel feel guilty about “dragging America into another of its wars.”
In fact, Israel has never “dragged America into” anything. The American and British soldiers (and some officers) who fought in the Israeli War for Independence were volunteers. They joined the Israel Foreign Voluntary Auxiliary, called Mitnadvei Chutz LaAretz, or Volunteers from Outside the Land. (The most famous of these was Lieutenant-colonel David “Mickey” Marcus USAR, also known as Aluf Michael Stone, the first general officer that Israel ever had.) Nor did any Americans take part in the Six-day War or the Yom Kippur War. (Tragically, 34 Americans lost their lives aboard the ELINT ship USS Liberty during the Six-day War. It was one of the worst “blue-fire” incidents in the history of the USA or its allies. Liberty strayed too close to the war zone, and orders to her to leave the area came too late.)
But the thought that the government of Israel might “drag America into yet another war” infects American politics. Obama knows this. In this light, Obama released that war-games report to provoke war-weariness in America and guilt in Israel. (That’s an absurdly hypocritical thing for Obama to do, given his handling, up to now, of the war in Afghanistan.)
Jeff Dunetz, the “Yid with a Lid,” accuses Obama of worse: letting the world know that if he has a second term, he will be overtly hostile to Israel, even as he is covertly hostile today:
Is this Obama’s pre-election foreshadowing of what he will do once he has the flexibility of not having to run again? Is Obama sabotaging Israel under the radar today and waiting to do even worse more blatantly later? Is the subtle shift in the US position on Jerusalem a signal of the pressure Obama will deliver in a second Obama administration?
That is difficult to say. Charles Krauthammer (National Review) suggested something similar. This would also be of a piece with the US State Department saying baldly that Jerusalem is not even a part of Israel.
But Obama might have started something he can’t stop. Why did Rav Aluf Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, cancel all leaves and passes for Passover season and order all units to stay on full alert? Are Israeli troops on an unusual spate of maneuvers, or is the observed activity typical for a country that always considers itself at war? In seeking to stop Israel from going to war, might Obama have provoked them instead?