President Obama says he has Israel's back. The question now is whether anyone believes him.
On Monday, at a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Obama reiterated his recent pro-Israel line. "The bond between our two countries is unbreakable," he declared. "And as I've said to the prime minister in every single one of our meetings, the United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security."
Mr. Obama's comments must be viewed in the context of the credibility gap between his words and actions regarding the Jewish state. His administration's policy relationship with Israel - as well as his personal relationship with Mr. Netanyahu - has been rocky at best. The White House cannot point to a single major agreement or beneficial game-changing action taken with respect to Israel. Yet Mr. Obama repeatedly claims outsized credit for his supposed accomplishments.
Mr. Obama maintains that his administration "has done more for the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration." This boast doesn't bear even rudimentary scrutiny. Presidents Truman, Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes took significant actions to support America's most important Middle Eastern ally in times of peace and war. President Carter, lately no friend of Israel's, brokered the 1978 Camp David accords, the single most important diplomatic effort of any U.S. president respecting Israel since its founding. The question is not which president has done more than Mr. Obama regarding Israel, but which has done less.
U.S. credibility is critical in the nuclear face-off with Iran. A strong president may be able to dissuade the mullahs from pursuing nuclear-weapons capability. A credible leader could give the Israelis the necessary sense of security to persuade them not to take pre-emptive unilateral military action. Neither side sees Mr. Obama in this light. He says he "does not bluff," but few think the administration that invented the concept of "leading from behind" has the mettle to face a military crisis with Iran. Taking out Tehran's nuclear infrastructure would require more than a raid by special operations forces or zapping a terrorist by remote control. "Obama's words are tough but his actions aren't," observed former Israeli Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Naftali Bennett. "He talked about Teddy Roosevelt holding a big stick. Right now, we are seeing big words but a very, very small stick."
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Sunday, Mr. Obama touted his Sept. 2011 pro-Israel U.N. speech. "No president," he said, "has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time." But no other president has had to keep reiterating such support, because in every other administration it was implicit and understood. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, if you have to keep insisting you are a lady, you aren't.
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