Obama's dangerous strategy

The American President might find that a more positive attitude to Israel could help him at home

By Melanie Phillips, September 3, 2009

The farce over doorknobs for centrifuges masks the fact that President Obama’s whole Middle East strategy is in the process of imploding.

Obama has been pressuring Israel to freeze every brick and widow-frame of all settlement construction as a precondition for the US “getting tough” with Iran. This has caused Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu to walk a diplomatic tightrope. But it is arguably President Obama who has the rope around his own neck.

Israel’s supposed policy of expanding the settlements was supposed to be the major stumbling-block to peace with the Palestinians and Arab support against Iran. This was absurd, and indeed Obama is now softening his stance.

Construction of new settlements has been frozen for years with no concessions from the Palestinian side. And the idea that Israeli concessions were needed to bring the Arabs on side against Iran was ridiculous. The Arabs are desperate for the Iranian nuclear threat to be removed because Iran is an overwhelming threat to their existence. The settlements are irrelevant to the Iran crisis — which has predictably become even more acute because Obama’s policy of appeasing the Arab and Muslim world has gone belly-up.

In response to his hand of friendship, the Iranian regime rigged its election, tortured and murdered its internal opponents and turned even more extreme.

Construction of new settlements has been frozen for years - with no Palestinian concessions

As for Israel, Netanyahu faced down Obama over his attempt to define Jewish houses in east Jerusalem as “settlements” and to freeze construction there, too. Having united virtually all of Israel against him (only four per cent of Israelis think Obama is pro-Israel) the US President grovelled to the Arabs for a sign of some move towards peace with Israel. They refused.

He begged the Iranians to “engage” with him. In response, they have now appointed as defence minister Ahmad Vahidi, a terrorist wanted for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires and who was also involved in the 2006 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex which killed 19 American soldiers. Meanwhile, Iran continues to develop the nuclear capability which threatens not just Israel but America and Europe.

In any event, Obama has already said that he will get tough with Iran if it remains intransigent by this autumn. So how could the settlement issue have been the clincher? And what does “getting tough” mean? Why, sanctions. The Iranians must be quaking in their boots. We can all write the script for that debacle already. Talk about shutting the stable door after the centrifuges have bolted. And then what? When Plan B fails, what is Obama’s Plan C? I think we know. It’s called “living with a nuclear Iran” or: the surrender of the west.

What Obama may yet come to realise is that he might need Israel to save him from electoral meltdown at home. With his ratings plummeting due to his domestic policies, he leads a country that, unlike Britain and mainland Europe, understands the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear bomb.

The failure to stop Iran going nuclear on his watch could destroy his presidency. We may find, therefore, that the attitude towards Israel of the most hostile President in living memory soon undergoes rapid reprogramming.

President Obama is now between a rock and a hard place. An Israeli strike on Iran would utterly destroy his strategy and possibly draw the US willy-nilly into a wider war. On the other hand, it could just be that to save his political skin at home Obama will find himself sweating upon Israel taking out the Iranian nuclear threat. He thus faces a possible choice between war against Iran and a mortal threat to his presidency.

Such is the outcome of denial, the river that runs through the Oval Office.

Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist

Last updated: 2:02pm, September 3 2009