A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama-Netanyahu: Why I Haven't Posted Yet

Some may wonder why I haveN't yet posted about the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, which had already generated reams of commentary even before it began. That's basically why. Until we know a bit more about how it went (as both sides leak their own spin), I think most of what there is to say has already been said by so many analysts that I hardly need to add my two cents. But a couple of points to keep in mind until we know a bit more about what was said:
  • It's clear that the two men have very different visions of each country's priorities, and each will be trying to control the narrative. Juan Cole worries about a repeat of the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit in Vienna in 1961; that seems to me to be going a bit far: Israel is not the Soviet Union, but rather (as the single biggest recipient of US aid) a country where we can exert influence if we choose to. Unlike the US and the Soviet Union, the US and Israel are not comparable powers, whatever Netanyahu may think.
  • There is a widespread notion both in the Israeli and the Western media that Israel has the capability to strike Iran's nuclear sites unilaterally without US approval. It's true that they struck the Iraqi Osirak reactor unilaterally in 1981, but that involved violating both Saudi and Iraqi airpace. Iran is much farther, the key sites are inland, and a mission would have to overfly either Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi, or Saudi airspace. The United States currently controls Iraqi airspace, so that could not be done if we did not choose to allow it. I've previouslly linked to the piece done by Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman at CSIS on the military obstacles Israel would face, and I think that Israel's acting alone would be a lot more difficult than many imagine.
And an aside: briefly today the BBC news website had a headline saying "Obama insists on a two-day solution to Israeli Palestinian peace." Before I could think fast enough to do a screen capture, they'd changed it, naturally, to "a two-state solution." Insisting on a two day solution would certainly speed up the peace process, though.

So I'll defer a longer post until the leaks begin.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Points I made today on BBC Arabic and English interviews: The Obama Administration has laid out clearly its positions, which the President no doubt reinforced in his meeting with Netanyahu, even if he did not rub it in publicly. The Israeli government position has been evolving and will continue to evolve.
Israel has three strategic threats, two of which are readily apparent to both Netanyahu and Obama. They are Iran's nuclear and missile potential and the terrorist threat posed by nearby Hezbollah and Hamas. The third threat, which became obvious to both Sharon and Olmert, is the demographic reality that Jews are a minority and getting to be a smaller minority in the lands Israel controls between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. If Israel demands to be recognized as a Jewish state, as Netanyahu stated in the press conference after his meeting with Obama, they could help matters by withdrawing to within the 1949 borders, where Jews are a large majority. This would also help deal with the threats posed by Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Netanyahu does face a problem of selling this to his right wing governing coalition, but that is a domestic political problem, not a strategic problem. Fortunately, he is an extremely flexible politician, so he could form a new coalition at the center of Israeli politics.