Not for the first time, Barack Obama said all the right things at the AIPAC dinner over the weekend. All of the expected words and sentiments were out in force—tributes to the enduring friendship between the two nations, reassurances of shared goals and acknowledgments of common strategic interests.
That’s all good. But at this critical juncture in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, words are less important than actions. The president needs to show his support for Israel in tangible ways, both in public and behind the scenes. There can be no equivocation, no cool detachment, no mixed signals. Israel’s enemies and, indeed, the rest of the world need to understand that the United States and Israel stand together in the battle against global terrorism.
Nothing would please the world’s terrorists and terrorist sponsors more than the prospect of a bitter split between the U.S. and Israel. Since 2009, many have observed, the Obama White House has been tougher on Jerusalem than it has been on Teheran. That perception, whether justified or not, has to stop, now. Nobody should have any reason to doubt America’s support for Israel, and for the decisions that Israel will have to make about its own national security.
Washington must remind the world that Iran’s religious and secular leaders, including its grand ayatollah, have pledged themselves—in public—to Israel’s destruction. This sort of rhetoric would be condemned and sanctioned if it emanated from a European or Asian capital. But Iran’s leaders regularly and consistently make it clear that if they had the means, they would wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
Nobody can doubt that Iran’s leaders are intent on building a nuclear weapon, and if they succeed, who can doubt that the ayatollahs will use the weapon to target Israel? That’s why the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is, as Mr. Obama stated, intolerable.
So the questions become: What to do, and when to do it?
Like any other nation, Israel will act as it sees fit to defend its national security and its civilian population. Mr. Obama, with some justification, told the AIPAC gathering that loose talk about an attack on Iran could be counterproductive. He might be right: Over the weekend, followers of Iran’s grand ayatollah—a man who makes the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seem reasonable—scored a big victory in the nation’s parliamentary elections. Tensions with the Israel, the U.S. and the West certainly played into the ayatollah’s hands.
An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is not, in fact, inevitable, although Mr. Netanyahu rightly noted in his own speech to AIPAC that Israel will not stand idly by if Teheran persists in building a weapon of mass destruction. Israel remains skeptical about the power of diplomatic and economic sanctions, with good reasons—sanctions are a rational response to a crisis, but Iran’s leaders clearly are not rational. Nevertheless, time has not yet run out on diplomacy. But the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran must be effective, indeed, it must be crushing, and it is up to the Obama White House to take the lead.
That course of action will require more than platitudes from Washington. It will require determination and passionate belief. It remains to be seen if Mr. Obama can summon those qualities on behalf of Israel—and, by extension, on behalf of American security as well.