Israel to Take Center Stage in Campaign 2012

Feb 29, 2012 1:44pm

Anticipating an aggressive Republican effort next week to criticize the president’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Democratic National Committee is sending out a web video to Jewish media and activists accusing the GOP of politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship.

On Sunday, President Obama will address the annual convention of AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. On Monday, he will welcome Netanyahu at the White House.

Tensions have emerged between Obama and Netanyahu over myriad issues, including the construction of Israeli settlements and the failure of the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Earlier this month, the president’s National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon, visited Israel to discuss a number of issues including the most pressing one: actions the government of Iran has taken suggesting that it may be pursuing a nuclear weapon. The Israeli government considers an Iranian nuclear weapon an existential threat, and has publicly discussed taking pre-emptive military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. White House and Pentagon officials have been urging the Israelis to stand down, for now, given their belief that Iran’s leaders have not yet made the decision to pursue a weapon.

A senior Israeli government official tells the newspaper Haaretz that “Netanyahu is expected to publicly harden his line against Iran” during his meeting with President Obama. “Israel wants Obama to make further-reaching declarations than the vague assertion that ‘all options are on the table,’ the official said. In particular, Netanyahu wants Obama to state unequivocally that the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain ‘red lines,’ said the official; Israel feels this will increase pressure on Iran by making clear that there exists a real U.S. threat.”

White House officials have suggested there will be no change in U.S. policy.

Israel’s security – and the Obama administration’s commitment to it – has been a significant campaign issue. Nearly two weeks ago, the Republican Jewish Coalition unleashed a web ad assailing President Obama’s proposed budget, which would reduce funding for Israeli missile defense – the so-called “Iron Dome” — from $106 million in FY 2012 to $99.8 million in FY 2013, saying the cut indicates he “wants to weaken Israel’s security just when it needs it the most.”

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services Committees, respectively, protested the proposed cut, writing to President Obama that they were “deeply concerned that at a time of rising threats to our strongest ally in the Middle East, the administration is requesting record-low support for this vital defense cooperation program.”

Not mentioned in that letter was the fact that the president’s budget indicates future funding levels for Iron Dome of $95.7 million in 2014, $96.8 million in 2015, $103.9 million in 2016 and $106 million in 2017. Nor does the letter make the point that Democrats emphasize: overall, the president’s proposed budget would allocate $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel – the highest level in U.S. history.

The funding for Iron Dome “was informed by discussions with the Israelis,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Jarrod Bernstein, the White House director of Jewish outreach  recently wrote that “the President has requested unprecedented support for Israel, even in a challenging fiscal climate. Our overall security assistance to Israel has gone up every year since 2009, with $3.1 billion requested for 2013-a $25 million increase from 2012, which fulfills the commitment made in our ten year Memorandum of Understanding.”

The Democratic National Committee “rebuttal” to this and future attacks claims that “the bond between the U.S. and Israel. It’s always been beyond politics…”

The ad features Netanyahu saying: “President Obama spoke about his ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented…And he has backed those words with deeds.”

-Jake Tapper

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