Being Right: Obama’s First Trip to Israel as President



Matthew Eichel

Finally! For the first time during his five years as President of the United States, Obama has traveled to Israel. Funny, isn’t it? Israel is our closet ally. It has been steadfast in its support for the United States, and yet Obama has neglected to go there until now. Why now? Was this just a symbolic action so Obama could show his support for Israel or did the trip have real meaning?  Well, it appears to be the former. The trip did not do much to progress peace talks in the region. Instead it just appeared to slightly boost Obama’s image in a country that he seemed to have forgotten about. 

Obama met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reaffirmed the alliance between America and Israel. He promised that America would do all that it could to back Israel in the struggle for peace in the Middle East, calling America Israel’s “greatest friend.” Much of the discussion centered on one of Israel’s volatile neighbors, Iran. 

Iran is getting closer everyday to obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed to wipe Israel off the map, so Israel is willing to do anything within its to power to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability. The question is whether or not America will support Israel in this endeavor. If circumstances called for it, would Obama be willing to order an attack on Iran? While a great amount of discussion occurred, the answer to this question is still unclear. Peres seems convinced that Obama will act if necessary because he is, as Peres put it, “not a chicken.” But the Obama administration has been sending mixed messages recently. 

On March 4, Vice President Joe Biden argued at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference that President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a bomb at all costs. He stated that the window of opportunity for sanctions and diplomacy is rapidly closing, implying that military intervention may soon be necessary. The next day, however, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that while Iran is getting closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon, the President wants to avoid even considering using military action.  

The fact is, in the Israeli’s eyes, we are reaching the point of no return. Iran will soon cross what Netanyahu famously referred to as the “red line,” the point past which military intervention is the only possible option. Obama announced a few weeks ago that Iran is a “year or so” away from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Whether he is implying that we are running out of time or that there is still plenty of time for diplomacy to work is unclear. What is clear, however, is that there appears to be some daylight between the U.S. and Israel. Saying “we are leaving all options on the table” and actually putting your money where you mouth is when the time comes are two different things.  Now, I hope that it never comes to this, but if Iran does in fact get a nuclear weapon, Israel may attack Iran. I believe it is the interest of our country to back Israel 100 percent. But I am still not entirely convinced this will happen. Interestingly enough, upon hearing the news that the Syrian government may have used chemical weapons against its own citizens, Obama used Netanyahu’s language and claimed that if that allegation were true, a red line would have been crossed and US military intervention would be necessary. So does this mean that Obama will only see it necessary to attack Iran after they have obtained and deployed a nuclear weapon? I sure hope not. 

Visiting with Netanyahu and Peres is not the only thing Obama did while overseas. Along with meeting with Palestinian leaders and King Abdullah of Jordan, Obama appealed to an audience of Israeli students in Jerusalem and visited a number of historical sites such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. What he did not do, however, was address the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton addressed the Knesset in their visits to Israel, so you would think Obama would do it as well. The Knesset is a symbol of Israel’s status as a democratic state, so addressing it would be a symbolic gesture recognizing Israel and America’s alliance and shared democratic values. This is just another thing that really makes me question Obama’s attitude toward Israel. Does he really support it 100 percent? Will he be in Israel’s corner through thick and thin? I do not think he is a chicken, but I’m not completely reassured that he will act when the time comes. I really hope I’m wrong. Only time will tell.