“I’ve got Israel’s back,” President Barack Obama once said, but recent events suggest that he and his top aides—like Secretary John Kerry—meant they would rush forward to stab Israel in the back whenever an opportunity presented itself.
“The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school” in Gaza, Obama’s State Department declared Sunday in an amazing rush to judge and summarily condemn Israel after ten Palestinians were killed in the school.
“We once again stress that Israel do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties,” asserted Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman and a former senior campaign aide to Obama.
In at least three previous cases, Hamas terrorists exploited UN schools in Gaza as artillery positions and arms depots, and on several occasions, Hamas rockets and mortar shells have fallen back on schools and other civilian sites used by Hamas.
The unprecedented harsh statement aimed at Israel came only a few hours after Israel began a partial unilateral pull-back from Gaza that was met by increased terrorist rocket and mortar fire.
Last week President Obama and Secretary Kerry put great pressure on Israel to stop its campaign against terrorists in Gaza, asserted Israel State TV, citing a transcript of the 35-minute phone call last Sunday from President Obama to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The offices of Obama and Netanyahu subsequently denied the report, but most knowledgeable Israeli officials and reporters say the report is both reliable and troubling.
President Obama, according to the report, demanded Israel immediately implement a unilateral ceasefire unconditionally, especially stopping air attacks on Hamas, and turn the mediation efforts over to Qatar and Turkey, two Islamist states that support Hamas.
“I demand that Israel agree to a unilateral ceasefire and cease all offensive operations, particularly from the air,” declared Obama to a stunned Netanyahu.
“And what about Hamas?,” Netanyahu asked, to which Obama replied: “I believe that Hamas will stop its attacks.”
Obama also demanded that Israel agree immediately to lift all quarantines on goods flowing into Gaza—a demand that Israel is not likely to accept.
Beyond the ceasefire itself, President Obama’s demands basically ask Israel to
- Stop destroying all of Hamas’s sophisticated cement-lined terror tunnels;
- Stop demanding the demilitarization of Gaza and the disarming of Hamas, leaving the matter for post-truce talks;
- Accept the long-term legitimacy of Hamas as the government of Gaza, and the role of Islamist regimes of Turkey and Qatar (which have aided Hamas) in mediating “the dispute” with Hamas.
Israel TV said it was shown a transcript of the Obama-Netanyahu call by a U.S. source, but it did not give details.
When Netanyahu insisted that Hamas had already violated five different ceasefires and was a terror group bent on Israel’s destruction, President Obama said, unimpressed, “The ball is in Israel’s court.”
The revelation by Israel TV confirmed a deepening crisis between the Obama Administration and Israel. It came only a few hours after Secretary of State Kerry insisted that Netanyahu had asked him to get a ceasefire.
However, Israeli officials and army officers had been saying that they needed more time to finish cleaning out Hamas terror tunnels built from Gaza into Israeli territory, and some Israeli officials wanted to do more damage to Hamas’s command structure, which is hiding underground.
The Obama Administration thought a quick ceasefire was in Israel’s interest, but most Israelis believe Obama is in effect holding a gun to Israel’s head to make it stop Israeli gun-control of Hamas terrorists, who have built up large stores of rockets, mortars and explosives—in violation of Israel-Palestinian agreements.
“The pictures of destruction are turning the world against Israel,” said President Obama to Netanyahu, according to the Israel TV account, and he repeated his insistence that Israel immediately cease fire, leaving details of Israeli demands for demilitarizing Gaza to arrangements to be made by Qatar and Turkey.
“It is impossible to rely on Qatar and Turkey as honest brokers,” Netanyahu responded, adding that it was impossible to trust Hamas’s good behavior and the good offices of Qatar and Turkey. Qatar runs the pro-Al-Qaeda satellite channel, Al-Jazeera TV, and it also bankrolls Hamas.
Since the Obama-Netanyahu conversation Sunday, the Obama Administration pulled back a bit in public from some of the elements demanded by Obama, but Israelis are very distrustful of the U.S. administration, and Israeli leaders feel the crisis of confidence comes at a bad time for Israel.
Israel has hurt the Hamas terror group that controls Gaza, killing as many as 700 or more of its fighters. The Palestinians are reporting as many as 1750 dead in the current war, but it may turn out that half of them are gun-holding terrorists.
In the previous round of fighting in 2012, Israeli intelligence confirmed that 60 percent of about 1,100 Palestinians killed were active terrorists.
Obama’s tough statements and demands come at a delicate moment for Israel. More than 65 Israelis have been killed, and many people in Israel’s border towns, farms and villages left their homes during a month of constant rocket strikes and tunnel raids.
Many Israelis are still afraid to return home, because Israel’s American-assisted anti-rocket defense system—Iron Dome—does not work against lower-flying mortar rounds, which have about a ten-mile range.
There is also significant economic pressure on Israel’s southern towns and kibbutzim, and there is a strong and lingering doubt about the Obama Administration’s intentions, despite Obama’s famous remark “I have Israel’s back.”
Polls in Israel consistently show that President Obama is not popular with Israelis, and the president and Secretary Kerry are not highly esteemed professionally. Many prominent academics and politicians call both men naïve, or incompetent.
Even on the Israeli Left, Israelis do not like Obama’s policy, publicly scolding what they see as Obama Administration policy clumsiness, pointing both to the President as well as Secretary of State Kerry.
“The secretary of state of the United States is a UFO,” wrote Barak Ravid, the political correspondent of the normally very dovish Ha’aretz newspaper.
“The U.S. has one great achievement: it has united Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians in the belief that the Obama Administration is incompetent,” observed one Israeli TV commentator, adding that it was now apparent that Obama believes in building a new Mid-East on Hamas and other Islamist forces like the Muslim Brotherhood.
A new poll taken by Israel Channel TV showed that by a ten to one ratio, Israelis oppose a ceasefire: 87.7% favor more military pressure, while just seven percent favored a ceasefire. A similar poll for the newspaper Yediot Aharonot showed 86.5% in favor of continued strikes against Hamas, and nine percent for a ceasefire.
Inside Israel’s cabinet, most government ministers want the Israeli army (IDF) to take away Hamas’s strategic rocket and tunnel-making, with many even urging the Netanyahu government to expand military operations in Gaza in an effort to decapitate the Hamas leadership.
Over the weekend, top officials of Egypt, the Palestinian Authority (Mahmoud Abbas) and Israel, in public interviews and background talks, said they were appalled by the negotiating stance and tactics of Secretary Kerry, who tried to impose Turkey and Qatar—both supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood—as truce arbitrators.
Choosing Qatar is especially galling to Egypt, because Qatar, a tiny but rich Gulf country, has been funding Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and the extremist satellite TV station Al-Jazeera.
Choosing Turkey is astounding to Israel because Turkey’s Islamist leader, Recep Erdogan, frequently makes rabidly anti-Jewish statements, and in a recent speech he threatened the Jewish community in Turkey.
Israeli leaders say they cannot allow a long-term ceasefire that Hamas will use to replenish its supply of rockets and to fix its network of strategic tunnels, some of them several miles long leading from Gaza into Israel.
The IDF says it has found and partially destroyed over 30 tunnels leading into Israel, but its top officers say they need more time to find the remaining tunnels, most of which are carefully booby-trapped with high explosives.