Thursday, March 26, 2009

A sea change

Remember when Candidate Obama reassured a Jewish audience that he would support the State of Israel? Well, as is the case with so many campaign promises, this one may be honored primarily in the breach.

Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi cut short a trip to Washington earlier this month after he failed to obtain meetings with any Cabinet member, or with his counterpart, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Israel Defense Forces played down the schedule changes, saying Ashkenazi returned home to attend a meeting regarding abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, that he had not planned to meet with Mullen, and that he spoke on the phone to officials he couldn't meet. (Thanks to Smooth Stone.)

So what really happened? Ashkenazi was in town to lobby against the planned U.S. dialogue with Iran. Obama officials probably wanted to signal that they want to talk about Palestine, not Iran, and that they want Israel to legitimize Hamas and Hezbollah. That message would be consistent with Obama's video message to Iran, and with the recent announcement by Paul Volcker, Brent Scowcroft, Lee Hamilton and others that the U.S. should talk to Hamas. (Hamilton was co-chair of the study group that wanted to declare defeat and pull out of Iraq.)

Ashkenazi may also have been hoping to obtain weapons and systems that the Bush Administration had blocked for fear they could be used to attack Iran's nuclear weapons facilities. The Israelis must now know this won't happen. Once Benyamin Netanyahu becomes prime minister, expect the temperature to drop further.

I suspect Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others are also lobbying the Obama administration not to cozy up to Iran. After all, if - or is it already when - Iran gets the bomb, they'll be on the frontline too. However, so far there is no sign that the administration is responding to such pressures.

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