In March 2001, Ariel Sharon visited George Bush for the first time as Israel’s new prime minister. As Sharon’s chief foreign policy adviser then, I remember the unwritten understanding those two men reached during that initial encounter: our countries would never surprise each other — we may not always see the situation in the same light, but we would always consult.
That is why the US’s abstention from the UN Security Council vote came as a shock in Israel. There was no warning before Condoleezza Rice allowed Resolution 1860 to pass — a resolution that bids Israel to halt Operation Cast Lead immediately without any assurances that the rocket-fire and the arms smuggling would cease .
How did it come about that Israel’s right to self defence was ignored? The question is all the more baffling when we consider that Israel’s goal of deterring the Hamas regime is a part of the US-led campaign against global terror.
Ehud Olmert’s proud description of the call he put in to George Bush is quite extraordinary. In Olmert’s own words: “I told [Bush] that the US could not possibly vote in favour of this resolution. He immediately called the Secretary of State and told her not to vote for it.” Placing a desperate call at 3:30am is nothing to be proud of. It is a sign of an astonishing failure of communication. It shows that the Israeli government did not make sufficiently clear to the US the absolute necessity of completing its operation in Gaza.
Now the concern is whether Israel can return to the unwritten understanding of “no surprises” with Obama. I believe that it can. Hopefully, Israel has learned from its mistakes and will have new leadership after the elections that will more effectively present our case.
Obama is an intelligent leader with a very full domestic agenda. He will most likely respond wisely to the current realities — the seriousness of the Iranian nuclear threat and the fact that today Israel has no partner for peace. Abu Mazen, the supposedly pragmatic Palestinian leader, comes to the negotiating table with demands that Israel could never accept, including the right of return of millions of Palestinians to Israel and sovereignty over our Temple Mount.
These facts mean that a realistic US policy will need to replace the goal of a comprehensive peace with one of laying a strong foundation for eventual peace through weakening Iran’s influence in the area and stopping radical Islam. Israel will have a warm and supportive relationship with the Obama administration based on historic common interests and values. It will be further strengthened to the extent that the new president understands that Israel’s fight for the right of its citizens to live in peace is also the world’s fight.