FEATURE: With Obama at helm, Iranian threat looms lar

Sunday, November 09, 2008 |  Nicole Jansezian

With President-elect Barack Obama ready to assume power in the most powerful nation on earth, Israel faces the grave prospect of a nuclear Iran. Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, says he is worried about Obama’s stated intention to “conciliate with our enemies, not support our friends. That worries me a great deal.”

Rubin said that while the Israeli-Palestinian situation is not likely to be vastly affected by any American president, the more serious threat is a nuclear Iran and the “extremely serious strategic challenge which affects 20 countries or more.”

“We have every reason to believe that [Obama] will take a relatively soft approach, whether or not he holds direct negotiations or indirect negotiations” with Iran, Rubin told a news briefing in Jerusalem last week. “We cannot expect that he will take a tougher line on sanctions and pressures, and he will not persuade Tehran that he’s going to do so. This will have the predictable effect that the Iranians are going to push ahead on nuclear weapons as fast as they have with much less concern over the consequences.”

While Israeli leaders welcomed Obama’s election and said they expect the “special strategic relationship” between the two countries to continue, signs of strain quickly emerged. A day after the election, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni publicly condemned Obama’s plans to talk to Iran.

“We live in a neighborhood in which dialogue—in a situation where you have brought sanctions, and you then shift to dialogue—is liable to be interpreted as weakness,” Livni said. Asked if she supported the US dialogue with Iran, Livni replied: “The answer is no.”

Some Israelis are jealous of a charismatic figure that galvanized a nation, a dynamic missing in Israeli politics. As Israel heads toward its own elections, no such visionary leader has risen up.

But others expressed misgivings about Obama’s policies toward Israel. An editorial in the right-wing Israel National News said Obama’s readiness to sit down with an adversary comes from his “limited experience in international affairs.”

“One who surrenders and retreats in hopes of gaining a little peace places his own survival in jeopardy,” the editorial said. “Such has been Israel’s experience at least since the year 2000, and such will be the experience of the United States if it sacrifices the interests of its allies in the pursuit of facile and elusive ‘solutions.’”

More cause for concern came from the Arab press. The Lebanese newspaper al-Ahbar reported that Obama told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in secret that he supports a Palestinian state and Arab “rights to East Jerusalem.” The sources said Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “heard the best things they ever heard from an American president.”

The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi ran an editorial by Abdelbari Atwan who said that Obama won a racial intifada (uprising) to become president. He said the Arabs should learn from this to “impose our point of view and serve our cause.”

“The conditions are now right for the Arabs to use their wealth to obtain a favorable commitment from the US and correct historical mistakes made in Palestine,” Atwan writes. “It is our right today to show our support for Obama, not because his father is called Hussein, or because he is black, even less because he is Moslem. But just because he revolted against contempt.”

Palestinians in Gaza celebrated Obama’s victory with spontaneous celebrations in the streets and waving Hamas flags, probably more an expression of contempt for President Bush than support for Obama.

By contrast, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised Bush and said he would go down in Israeli history. “His name will be engraved in golden letters on the heart of the State of Israel,” Olmert said. “The $30 billion we received over 10 years are only the very tip of the iceberg of the things Bush has given us.”

By the same token, a poll showed that 76 percent of American voters in Israel cast their ballots for Bush’s fellow Republican John McCain. It was the direct opposite in America where Jews voted on domestic issues and put Israel on the back burner. Polls show that some 78 percent of American Jews voted for Obama.

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