‘He’s asking us to trust him. Now we’re watching Ukraine and wondering,” a senior member of the Israeli government told The Times of Israel on Monday, speaking about US President Barack Obama’s response to the Russian incursion in the Crimea this week.
The official noted that the United States has a defense agreement with Ukraine, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, which affirms that “The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine…to respect the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”
The Israeli skepticism mirrors criticism of the Obama administration from some domestic critics.
The Ukraine crisis “is directly related to what happens in the Middle East,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington on Tuesday. The crisis “is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” charged McCain.
That message resonates with Israeli political leaders.
“There’s a limit to what the president [Obama] can ask of us if America isn’t willing to stand by its promises,” the Israeli official said.
But that concern, while it reflects continued skepticism over American dependability on the world stage on the part of much of the Israeli political leadership, is not necessarily shared by defense officials. One senior Israeli defense official said the American equivocation on Ukraine was understandable.
“We shouldn’t be too quick to apply lessons from Ukraine to Israel,” said the official on Monday. “Crimea has been an overriding strategic imperative for Russia for centuries. They have a military base there. So what’s America going to do? Send troops?”
That’s a very different situation from the Israel-Iran standoff, the official added.
McCain, too, acknowledged the lack of a military option.”I have to be very honest with you,” he told the pro-Israel lobby Tuesday. “There is not a military option that can be exercised now. But the most powerful nation in the world should have plenty of options,” he insisted, calling for personal and economic sanctions to be levied against Russia and its leaders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington Tuesday for talks with Obama over the Iranian nuclear issue and US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The visit is marked by increasing tensions between the two leaders, with the American leader openly chastising the Israeli government over West Bank settlement construction and the slow pace of negotiations, while the Netanyahu government has vociferously protested US-led nuclear talks between Western powers and Iran.