Take a close look at the photo above. It was taken by a Reuters photographer on March 20, 2013, and is one of the most important photo-ops of the Obama presidency.
The caption reads: “U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose with members of the Israel Defense Forces as he views an Iron Dome Battery at Ben Gurion International Airport.” The story talks about $488 million in new aid for Israel’s defense.
That image is what Obama’s supporters have pointed to when arguing that President Barack Obama has been not only a good friend to Israel, but the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House. His support for the Iron Dome system–which the U.S. supported before he came along, but which his administration funded even more generously–has undoubtedly saved many Israeli lives and altered the strategic balance in Israel’s favor.
Yet think about that caption again: “an Iron Dome Battery at Ben Gurion International Airport.”
The point of the battery, and the aid, was to protect commercial aviation in Israel–the country’s economic lifeline–from terrorist threats. For the most part, it has worked, save for one rocket that fell earlier this week one mile away from the tarmac (which happened to hit a house belonging to friends of mine, all of whom are safe, thankfully).
That rocket strike was a rare miss for Iron Dome, but posed no threat at all to the airport. Yet Obama’s Federal Aviation Administration banned all U.S. carriers from flying into and out of Ben Gurion.
The move likely came at Obama’s direction–especially given the timing, with Secretary of State John Kerry visiting the region and insisting on a ceasefire before Israel has destroyed Hamas’s ability to launch rockets and use terror tunnels.
Given the recent downing of MH17 over the war-torn eastern Ukraine, the ban is understandable–though still illogical, since Hamas does not have advanced Russian surface-to-air hardware. The real motive is likely political. As another friend, law professor Eugene Kontorovich, points out, Obama’s move seems calculated to pressure Israel, which must face an unofficial economic boycott “or agree to a cease-fire that lets Hamas keep its rockets.”
Once again, however, Obama has shown his weakness as a strategic thinker. His short-term pressure has had a long-term cost: the end of the two-state solution.
Israelis have long warned that a Palestinian state on the West Bank could mean rockets threatening Ben Gurion. Obama radically–and needlessly–accelerated that scenario, such that even big fans of a two-state solution, like Alan Dershowitz, say a Palestinian state may be impossible.
The move has also united Israelis behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even further in their desire to continue the war. A review of the Hebrew press by the Times of Israel notes: “Foreign airlines cancel flights and a soldier is MIA, but Israel is as resolute as ever.”
Israelis have rejected Obama, even as they have embraced the American people–in two massive funerals for American IDF volunteers killed in combat–more closely.
The upshot is that Israel feels more and more independent of the White House, which means it will feel more confident taking the fight to Hamas–and, later, to Iran.
So Obama has helped Israel–unintentionally–by trying to harm it.
Obama recently defended his decision not to visit the U.S.-Mexico border because “photo-ops” were useless. He is right: he proved that himself, at Ben Gurion’s Iron Dome. And Israel is learning to look past him.