Despite the fanfare surrounding President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel earlier this year, and concerted efforts in Jerusalem and Washington to minimize public disagreement, the Netanyahu and Obama administrations are at it again, jostling over the Iranian nuclear issue and peace talks with the Palestinians.
And the Israeli public is behind their prime minister on this one.
An Israel Hayom poll finds on Friday that 65.5% of respondents feel that Israel should oppose the nuclear deal being formulated in Geneva, while only 16.2% support the potential agreement. More than half the country (52.5%) supports Bibi’s handling of the feud with the US over the issue, according to the poll.
Support for the PM’s policies crosses sectors, age, and socio-economic status, but it is stronger among those who identify themselves as religious (84.4%) and significantly lower among the ultra-Orthodox (57.6%).
In addition, 52.4% of respondents would support an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and a full 68.8% are confident the military is up to the task.
“Israelis’ trust in the US is receding,” reads the headline of Dan Margalit’s analysis in Israel Hayom. “Until now, many Israelis listened to Shimon Peres when he said America could be trusted, that it would stop Iran’s nuclear program. This optimism is receding, and what shows this is the presentation John Kerry and Wendy Sherman gave to the Senate Banking Committee, in which that they said not to believe Israel on the Iranian issue.”
Maariv’s Ben-Dror Yemini comes down extremely hard on Kerry, saying his judgment is flawed.
Yemini writes that in 2009, while the flotillas of the radical left and Islamist right were on their way to the Gaza Strip, they received support from an unexpected quarter, Senator Kerry. “In his letter, Kerry pleads with relevant countries to support the human rights mission heading to Israel and the Palestinian territories — a letter that seems innocent, from December 23rd 2009, with Kerry’s signature. His action shows serious negligence and faulty judgment. How can this man, in such a senior position, give a letter of support to a group whose view of the Middle East is closer to that of Balad and Hamas than that of Peace Now?”
In response to Maariv’s report on the support letter, the State Department told the daily that the letter was “routine, a form letter that came from residents of Kerry’s district, signed automatically, a standard procedure for senators. The Massachusetts senators receive hundreds of requests for signatures on similar letters, for residents of the district heading to foreign countries. Senator Kerry did not see the letter, nor did senior aides. It was written by Kerry’s Boston office, and as such, it was also not seen by senior staff on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.”
The State Department continued to say that any insinuation that the letter showed support for the goals of the activists is entirely false and unjustified.
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan wasn’t much more generous than Yemini, reacting to Kerry’s comments about not trusting Israel on Iran in Wednesday’s closed-door meeting with senators. “When we are talking about a state that wants to destroy Israel and about the conditions that would enable it to carry it out,” Erdan said, according to Maariv, “What do they expect from Israel’s prime minister? That he won’t shout when the knife is in their hand, but only when it rests on our neck?”
“The Iranian foreign minister and his friends are walking around in Geneva and the smile on their faces can’t be wiped off. They also can’t believe how easily they are shaking the sanctions regime.”
Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea sees America as weakened in recent years, especially now. “The drop in America’s status in the world, and especially in the Middle East, is already apparent. Saudi Arabia is moving to French patronage, and sees in Obama an existential enemy, almost an Iranian agent; Egypt is looking for friends in Russia; in talks with Iran the French foreign minister is the fighter, the one with influence, not the American foreign minister. The French were shocked when Obama backed off at the last minute from his decision to attack Syria, writes Barnea. They are not willing to accept his weak policies toward Iran.
“The problem is not one president, or one project. American politics is sick, the American economy cannot fulfill dreams as it did in the past, and American society is having trouble reconciling with the new reality…Given this background, it is no surprise when the Israeli PM enters into open conflict with the Obama administration over Iran,” he says.
Israel isn’t the only regional ally whose faith in the US has waned. In a move strongly opposed by Israel, the United States froze much of its military aid to Cairo in October, arguing that the new military-dominated government was moving too slowly toward democratic reforms. Shortly thereafter, Egyptian officials hinted they would turn to Russia for their arms supply. Israel Hayom, citing Arabic media, reports that Egypt and Russia have been meeting over a $2.25 billion arms deal that would include MiG fighter jets, anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, and air defense radar.
Expect Israel to be very concerned should this deal go through.
But Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus feels that America understands Israel’s position, even if its administration does not. “Our relations with Obama are tense, and his envoy Kerry is about to explode with anger. It is not every day that Kerry warns us in a television interview that lack of progress in the peace process will lead to an intifada… Even if the administration is upset with us, among the American public there is understanding for the position Bibi presents.”
Days after an IDF soldier was stabbed to death by a Palestinian who was in Israel illegally, Maariv reports that around 30,000 Palestinians cross into Israel illegally every month. According to reporter Yochai Ofer, the reduction in the number of checkpoints is a major contributor to the problem, as is the incomplete security barrier. The fence in the northern West Bank makes it much harder to cross than in areas in the south, where it is still unfinished.