Last year, it was hard to miss the conservative pro-Israel lobby’s unshakable support for Mitt Romney. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner, poured more than $10 million dollars into the pro-Romney, Restore Our Future super PAC. Many analysts also noted the longstanding friendship between Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that developed while the pair were colleagues at Boston Consulting Group in the mid-1970s. President Obama, on the other hand, has experienced turbulent relations with Netanyahu, particularly since the Iranian nuclear crisis intensified last spring.
Why then, are we seeing the relationship beginning to sprout in the wake of Obama’s re-election? Perhaps, it is indicative of the president’s recent outreach to opposition leaders in Washington. More likely, however, the affection reflects a growing possibility of intervention in the Middle East. The leaders have expressed increasingly shared interests as Iranian nuclear talks persistently disappoint. Meanwhile, Syria’s chaotic civil war has threatened to propel both countries into a new armed conflict. Obama arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday afternoon in hopes of emphasizing American commitment.
Upon his entrance, Obama re-established his unwavering support for Israel, saying “So as I begin this visit, let me say as clearly as I can — the United States of America stands with the State of Israel,” declared Obama, “because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel.”
Obama praised Israel’s citizenry, later promising to keep “all options open” on Iran. It was the president’s first time visiting the Jewish state since taking office in 2009, which was no coincidence.
The leaders agreed they shared a “common assessment” on the time frame available for solving the Iranian nuclear crisis, but declined to provide specifics. The more pressing concern however, are mutual fears over the possible deployment of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians.
From his residence in Jerusalem, Israeli President Shimon Peres also warned that the Shi'ite paramilitant group Hezbollah could obtain the weapons under a Syrian structural collapse. "Unfortunately, the arsenal of chemical weapons remains,” expressed Peres solemnly. “We cannot allow for those weapons to fall into terrorist hands. It could lead to an epic tragedy.”
Indeed, if Iranian-allied Hezbollah — a stateless militant body — were to retain chemical weapons, they would likely be put to use on Israel. Even so, the dynamics of Syria’s conflict have grown so complex that military intervention may be off the table. Whether or not this is the case remains to be seen, but Netanyahu is glad to have America’s backing in the meantime.
“Thank you for strengthening the unbreakable alliance between our two nations during your presidency” Netanyahu told Obama. “I look forward to working with you over the next four years to make the alliance between our two countries even stronger.”
Syrian spillover has already escalated tensions in several neighboring countries, including Iran and Iraq. If these frictions aren’t managed properly, both leaders know a Middle Eastern war is waiting for them just around corner.