McFeatters: Barack Obama offers unequivocal support for Israel
The U.S. leader pronounced this country to be Israel's "strongest ally and greatest friend," one with an "unwavering commitment to Israel's security." Obama said he was speaking directly to the people of Israel, but pointedly added, given the increasing volatility of the region, "and to your neighbors."
Not surprisingly, Netanyahu said he was absolutely delighted that Obama had chosen Israel for the president's first foreign trip of his second term. The bad blood of last fall -- when Netanyahu all but endorsed Obama's opponent and seemed to be trying to goad the U.S. into a pre-emptive strike against Iran -- now seems a thing of the past.
Netanyahu seems reassured that if Israel decides to go it alone against Iran, without first obtaining America's blessing -- an unlikely scenario -- the U.S. would not stand in its way.
However, Netanyahu, who last fall seemed eager for an immediate joint strike against Iran's nuclear capacity, has seemed to accept Obama's rather more flexible timetable. The Israeli leader says he's "absolutely convinced" Obama is determined that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.
Obama accepts U.S. intelligence estimates that Iran is at least a year away from possessing a nuclear weapon, "but obviously we don't want to cut it too close."
In the meantime, he's hoping to resolve the situation diplomatically. But if not, "all options are on the table."
However, the two leaders may face a new threat of weapons of mass destruction. There were unproven charges Tuesday that the Syrian government had used poison gas against its rebels, which Obama said, if true, would be a "game changer." (One wonders how that translates into Arabic.)
If poison-gas weapons fell into the hands of radical anti-Israel Islamic groups, the U.S. would find itself forced to aggressively insert itself into a civil war it has tried mightily to stay out of.
In another gesture likely to endear him to the Israeli government, Obama dropped his insistence on preconditions for peace talks with the Palestinians -- among them, a moratorium on Israeli settlements on the West Bank. However, he still strongly endorsed a two-state peace agreement.
A poll taken before Obama's visit showed him with a 10 percent approval rating in Israel. If the Israelis don't warmly embrace him after this visit, at least they no longer have reason to worry that he's an indifferent, even unreliable, ally.
Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.