Israel's Iran Debate Comes to America

Two Push Opposing Views at Height of Election Season

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 14, 2012, issue of September 21, 2012.
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Yet for some observers, Danon’s direct attacks on Obama, and the public chill coming from the prime minister’s office toward the president, are reminiscent of the 1972 elections, when Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel’s ambassador to Washington, openly supported Richard Nixon.

Ever since, Israelis tried to steer clear of American election politics, but the prominent role Israel is playing in the foreign policy debate in this election cycle has made them difficult to avoid. Both candidates have been pointing to Israeli leaders as backing their views: Obama and his campaign by quoting Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres praising Obama’s friendship, and the Romney campaign by producing a video message showing the warm embrace the candidate received from Israeli leaders during his July visit to Jerusalem.

“Iran has become a kind of political case, and that’s the wrong approach,” argued Halutz, a retired lieutenant general. The former IDF chief of staff and Air Force commander presented his listeners with a view opposite of that of Danon, one that the Obama campaign could gladly embrace at the meeting for reporters sponsored by J Street.

The dovish lobby is advocating for a diplomatic resolution of the Iran crisis. The group noted, however, that Halutz was speaking on his own behalf, not on that of J Street.

In his presentation, Halutz warned against using the American political system to bypass the president. He stressed that as long as Israel isn’t facing an existential threat—which, in contrast to Netanyahu, he did not consider Iran to currently present—Israel should “take some risks in order to keep the relationship” with the United States. Obama’s resolve to prevent Iran from going nuclear, Halutz said, “is not measured by how many times he comes to visit Israel,” a quip at critics who say Obama refraining from visiting Israel as president reflects his negative feelings toward the Jewish state.

Explaining the administration’s refusal to draw red lines, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on September 10 that it “is not fruitful as part of this process to engage in that kind of specificity.”

Halutz offered a more colorful iteration of this policy. “I don’t think super powers should use red lines,” he said. “An elephant doesn’t use red lines against an ant.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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