Dougal Robinson is a Lowy Institute Project Research Assistant.
The US and Iran held a one-hour bilateral meeting in Geneva on Tuesday as part of negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, but two-thirds of Jewish Israelis believe President Barack Obama will fail to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Amid widespread criticism of Obama’s handling of the Iran file, what often goes unnoticed is that Obama has done more for Israel than any previous American president, including George W Bush.
First, Israel received almost three-quarters of a billion dollars more military aid this year than in 2008 (p.26), the final year of Bush’s presidency. The pronounced rise in the annual military grant, from US$2.38 billion to US$3.10 billion, is no small matter considering that it has occurred while the US endured the worst economic and budgetary conditions in 70 years. Most of this money must be spent on sophisticated American-made defence products. So greater funding improves Israel’s military capability, especially against divided and internally focused Arab states.
Second, and in addition to this aid, Israel has acquired significant military hardware. The US has spent almost half a billion dollars on Iron Dome (see photo), a short-range missile defence system whose performance in the November 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas was described as 'almost perfect' by Ehud Barak.[fold]
On President Obama’s watch, sophisticated missile defence systems such as Arrow 3 and David’s Sling are nearing completion, both of which will help Israel counter longer-range rockets and missiles from Hezbollah, Syria, and possibly Iran. Additionally, the US expedited sales of advanced weapons to Israel (including F-35 fighter aircraft, bunker busting munitions and refueling tankers) in last year’s US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act (p.8).
Third, Obama’s rhetoric has become increasingly favourable to Israel over the course of his presidency. For example, Obama called for a settlement freeze in early 2009 and Israel obliged for ten months. But in August this year, when Prime Minister Netanyahu controversially announced a new settlement construction program on the eve of the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, there was no public condemnation from Obama or Secretary Kerry.
What does all this amount to? Obama has shown greater support for Israel than his predecessors, and his policies have become more favourable towards Israel throughout his time in office. According to no lesser figure than Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to Washington for the four years to September 2013, 'there’s been a dynamic in US policy (under Obama) and the dynamic was in our direction'.
Based on the strong US support for Israel in the last four years, as well as its deep opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapon, it seems unlikely that Obama will throw Israel under a bus at the negotiating table.