Iran, Israel, and the Obama Campaign
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
President Obama’s pre-Super Bowl NBC Today interview certainly presented the U.S.-Israel relationship as far as dealing with Iran as being as close as it could possibly be. As reported by the Associated Press, the President told Matt Lauer: “I will say that we have closer military and intelligence consultation between our two countries than we've ever had…,” adding, “We are going to be sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this — hopefully diplomatically.”
The President’s remarks will not reconcile his committed opponents, although it is about all one might expect an incumbent President to say in public. While the Republicans can pander to Israel and her American supporters, Obama's questioners in the Jewish community should have felt some reassurance after this interview.
Behind the President’s comments were basically affirmative answers to a series of questions about where the two Governments are in trying to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear threat:
Do both countries intelligence communities draw the same conclusions, presuming that they are sharing the same facts and data?
Do both sets of military gamers have similar appreciations of the risks on both sides?
Can Israel allow diplomatic measures to continue for as long as the U.S. might wish?
Do the American and the Israeli military agree on a strategy and accept Israel’s proposed tactical decisions?
Are there any materiel needs which Israel may still want—new bunker-busters—which the U.S. might be withholding to force Israel to follow America’s timeline?
Are Israeli leaders playing their own internal political calculus in the process of their “cat-and mouse” game with Iran?
Finally, and by no means least, the Obama Administration wants to avoid any new U.S. military engagement before November. While it may be “lockstep” with Israel in strategy, the White House hopes the Israelis understand the political risks involved for the President if an attack on Iran produces a likely retaliation against Israel, just as he is in the midst of his re-election campaign. Any Iranian attack will have immediate—albeit maybe only temporary—consequences on the price of oil and on the U.S. economy, something which Obama will want to avoid, if possible, at all costs.
Certainly, a totally successful, quick Israeli attack (or a U.S. supported attack) would be a bonanza for the Administration, the likelihood of that resolution, however, might be dubious at best and a political risk worth avoiding or at least postponing. America being forced into another military action could well undermine the Obama re-election campaign. No one can or would predict the results or resolution of an Iranian confrontation and no doubt his re-election team wants to minimize potential explosions, not create ones they cannot control.
So, how do the Obama conclusions coincide with Israel’s existential considerations? From the President's side it seems they are.