By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
President Obama may not have said anything new but the fact that tonight he said it to the Israeli public direct is significant. I understand it as a way of bypassing the many politicians with their own often warped agendas and the many pundits who have their own twisted spins on the prospect of an agreement with Iran.
The event was broadcast live and hosted by Haim Saban, who came to Israel from Egypt as a young child and in time became a mega media mogul cum philanthropist. He now lives in California and in characteristic Diaspora fashion is passionate about Israel. His commitment includes massive donations – e.g., $14 million to the Soroka Medical Center in Tel Aviv – as well as the Saban Forum on the Middle East that’s currently meeting in Washington and where Saban himself (sort-of) interviewed Obama.
Though “Munich 1938” wasn’t mentioned, I understood many of the president’s statements to show that those who negotiated with the Iranians are neither naïve nor bent on getting an agreement at all cost. He said repeatedly that should the Iranians fail to comply, all other options (euphemism for military attack) will remain on the table.
The key is inspection and the continuation of sanctions. When Saban asked the president if the so-called deal with Iran will be as much of a fiasco as was the agreement with Pakistan and North Korea which should have prevented them from getting nuclear weapons but didn’t, Obama replied that anybody can find out from the internet how to make a nuclear bomb. The issue is the will.
He believes that Iranians, like the rest of us, have other priorities than war and would prefer to enjoy a life or prosperity without neither sanctions nor a constant military threat. Though he had no illusions about the new Iranian president’s love of Israel, he believes that he’s a pragmatist attuned to the needs of his people, and therefore, all rhetoric notwithstanding, would prefer an agreement to its alternatives.
The stress on Israel’s security came up again and again. The president said repeatedly that irrespective who is in the White House, the United States commitment to the Jewish state will remain unshaken. There’s everything to suggest that this is the case.
Yes, Obama recognizes that there’re disagreement with Netanyahu (who incidentally will address the Saban Forum from Jerusalem tomorrow) but he believes it to be about tactics, not substance. He didn’t speculate about Netanyahu’s own agenda.
He stressed what others have said repeatedly: security cooperation between Israel and the United States is stronger than it has ever been, and it will stay that way.
Though I didn’t discern any direct linkage between the Iran negotiations in Geneva (to be continued in Vienna very soon) and the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, the latter issue was raised. When asked if an agreement wouldn’t lead to the West Bank becoming another Gaza, Obama said that if things are allowed to happen in stages and the West Bank comes to benefit from a settlement, elements in Gaza might see the light and free themselves from Hamas domination.
To repeat: none of the above points are new, but the fact that Obama wanted ordinary Israelis to hear them without the mediation of politicians and journalists is significant. Even if he’s not the greatest statesman, he’s a superb communicator and he took advantage of it tonight. Polls will soon tell us if he won over those who watched.