Iran is accelerating its nuclear program. Syria’s gruesome civil war is beginning to bleed across its borders. Two years after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt’s political transition is, at best, dicey. And yet according to deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, “more important” than all of that “in some respects” is that President Obama take this opportunity to “speak directly to the Israeli people.’’
I get the logic of whoever dreamed up the president’s trip to Israel this week: Send Obama to reassure the Israelis he’s got their back on Iran. Demonstrate he doesn’t prefer the Arabs—an impression left in his first term when he visited Cairo but didn’t stop by Tel Aviv. Pay his respects at the graves of Israel’s fallen and acknowledge the historical artifacts that show Jews’ ties to the land. Let them know he really admires their technological prowess. Then maybe Israelis will feel more inclined to make peace with the Palestinians knowing the relationship with their most important ally is solid.
But this trip—the timing and the script—makes no sense. And even more than simply being a big waste of Obama’s time at a moment when he has little time to waste, it’s burning crucial American political capital that ought to be reserved for moments that truly warrant it.
The White House says the president is going to hear out what the newly appointed Israeli government has planned. Here’s a quick preview: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon wants to bomb Iran and Housing Minister Uri Ariel wants to build new settlements. If Obama wants to talk about drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces or the price of apartments in Tel Aviv, he’ll find an audience. Those relatively marginal issues are what dominated Israel’s recent election, not the future with the Palestinians.