As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in the United States this week, he will no doubt have taken heed of President Barack Obama’s weak response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. President Vladminir Putin crossed Obama’s “line”–just as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russia, crossed Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, without consequences. Though Ukraine is not as close an ally as Israel, the lesson for Israel is clear. Under President Obama, American security guarantees cannot be trusted.
As of Sunday, the situation in Ukraine represents Israel’s worst nightmare for itself. As Russian troops invade–perhaps as many as 15,000–the Ukrainian government is incapable of repelling them. Putin is in a position to dictate terms, while Obama struggles to convene international institutions such as the UN Security Council, where Russia has a veto anyway. Netanyahu knows that Israel barely averted such a situation in 1973, when Egyptian and Syrian invasions caught Israel by surprise. And on foreign policy, Obama is no Richard Nixon
The Ukrainian crisis therefore means that Israel is more likely than ever to attempt a pre-emptive attack on Iran alone. Like Iran, it knows that Obama’s pretense that a military option is still on the table is a joke. It was fitting that Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine came just days after the Obama administration announced massive military cuts that would barely leave the U.S. able to fight a war on one front, much less two. U.S. naval and air power are still quite capable of air strikes on Iran, theoretically, but no one believes Obama would even bother.
The Iranians are also learning from the Ukraine crisis. They understand what Obama’s impotence in the Crimea means: they must develop nuclear weapons capability first and ask questions later. They will gamble, correctly, that the U.S. is no longer committed to stopping them. In fact, Obama is more committed to stopping Israel. The one unknown is whether Israel would defy the U.S. and strike anyway, and how. As Iranian confidence grows, so does Israeli determination. The region may be heading for war, whether Obama likes it or not.