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Today’s top stories: Opinions differ over Obama’s speech at AIPAC Conference, reports of an Iranian nuclear test circulating, and journalists from Press TV charged with spying for having Israeli made medical supplies.
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The AIPAC Conference
• Obama’s speech at the AIPAC Conference managed the tough trick of appealing to AIPAC officials and J-Street supporters.
Aipac leaders praised Mr. Obama for saying that he would not tolerate a nuclear Iran, and for explicitly ruling out a strategy of containment similar to the one used against the Soviet Union.
“The president said some welcome things today on Iran,” said Josh Block, a former Aipac spokesman, “including making clear that he has a policy of prevention, not containment, explicitly pointing to a military option, delivering an extended explanation of why it is in America’s interest to stop Iran, and in particular making explicitly clear that Israel has a sovereign right to defend themselves as they see fit.”
There was a sharply different reaction at J Street, a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group that is less hawkish. Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said Mr. Obama “gave the domestic and mainstream Israeli audiences what they wanted without giving Bibi what he wanted,” referring to Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “He refused to lie down for Bibi.
• Jennifer Rubin was less impressed.
Obama was largely defensive in tone throughout the speech, declaring at one point that he had been with Israel at every critical junction so anyone who says differently doesn’t have the facts. He is hoping to get by with analysis of the problem (a nuclear-armed Iran would be very bad, he said), specifically rejecting containment as a strategy and leaving out large chunks of history (e.g., his failure to aid the Green Movement, his disastrous fetish with Israeli settlements that doomed the peace process).
But of course the real issues remain: 1) There is no evidence the Iran nuclear program has slowed because of sanctions (the reverse is true); 2) He actually seems to believe diplomacy is the only way to solve the Iranian threat; and 3) The timetable for sanctions and diplomacy to “work” will soon stretch beyond the time by which Israel must act in its own defense, leaving it dependent on U.S. action.
• Reuters says Netanyahu and Obama are “deeply at odds” over how much time is left to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Even though Obama has offered assurances of stiffened U.S. resolve against Iran before the White House meeting, the two allies are still far apart on explicit nuclear “red lines” that Tehran must not be allowed to cross, and they have yet to agree on a time frame for when military action may be necessary.
• With the AIPAC Conference in full swing, it must be time for the annual Walt and Mearsheimer commentary. This year, the “Jewish Lobby” authors are vexed by the overemphasis on Iran when everyone knows the real issue of moment is the Palestinians.
• LA Times‘ Doyle McManus points out that Obama is taking a more hawkish position on Iran than any of his generals.
It’s hard to find a high-ranking U.S. military officer who thinks war with Iran is a good idea. They point out that it is unclear that bombing Iran would succeed in stopping the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear technology, and that an attack would almost surely provoke Iranian retaliation and touch off a longer, wider war.
• Jane Eisen in Comment is Free says Obama deftly silenced critics at AIPAC but probably fell short of satisfying the “right wing campaign” against him.
Obama stepped lightly in this speech, asking nothing of Israel except to tone down the rhetoric on Iran, never mentioning the previously contentious issue of settlement activities as a legitimate obstacle to peace. Even so, that won’t be enough for some American Jews, whose anxieties over Iran are being stoked by a well-funded, highly partisan rightwing campaign to discredit Obama more broadly.
• Avi Shlaim uses the occasion to unleash a torrent of hostility and outright hatred at Benjamin Netanyahu and, ultimately, the Jewish lobby. No single snippet would capture the misguided and revolting message here.