Obama’s Subtle Undercutting of Israeli Self-Defense

By Jonathan Greenberg, Originally posted in the New York Observer

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. As he has done before, Mr. Netanyahu vowed that Israel would “do whatever it must do” to prevent Iran from building or acquiring nuclear weapons.

More than a month ago, in a story that gained surprisingly little attention in the United States, Israeli media ran audio tapes of former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak – the most decorated soldier in Israeli history – describing to his biographer three occasions since 2010 during which Israel nearly attacked Iranian nuclear targets. In each instance, the Israeli government chose not to move forward with a military strike due to lack of certainty that it could be effective.

In light of these reports, what are we to make of Mr. Netanyahu’s statements? Will Israel really do whatever it must to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons? And will the United States help or hinder such a move?

The mullahs learned well the lesson that Saddam Hussein learned in 1981 when Israel bombed the nascent Iraqi reactor at Osirak. Days after that attack, then-prime minister Menachem Begin announced the Begin Doctrine – that Israel viewed the development of weapons of mass destruction as an existential threat regardless of the stage of development and would preemptively attack as a means of counter-proliferation.

The Begin Doctrine also led Israel to attack and destroy a Syrian site in Deir ez-Zor in 2007. In his memoir, Decision Points, President George W. Bush wrote that then-prime minister Ehud Olmert asked the United States to bomb the site, but that the evidence was insufficient to warrant U.S. action. So Israel did it.

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