Through both his words and actions, President Obama expressed an unwavering support for Israel, helped assuage doubts about America’s commitment to Israeli security and strengthened the state’s relationship with the U.S. He also put Iran on notice that the allies are united, rather than divided, over the need to halt Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.
Throughout Obama’s first term, uneasiness mounted around the previously rock-solid bond between the United States and Israel. While shared values, counter terrorism and military cooperation were never in question, the apparent lack of chemistry between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was often in the spotlight. The U.S.-Israel relationship was challenged in the most significant way in decades. Many observers feared the growing rift would weaken Israel and motivate the Jewish state’s adversaries.
When the presidential visit to the Holy Land was announced, cautious optimism reverberated throughout the Jewish state. But during his trip, President Obama went above and beyond to lay any worries to rest. The itinerary of Obama’s trip was infused with symbolism, underscoring American support for Israel’s right to exist in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.
Prior to President Obama’s visit, many worried that he viewed the Jewish state and its legitimacy chiefly in the context of the Holocaust. And if Obama saw Israel as merely a consolation prize to Jews for facing near extermination during World War II, then that would make the Palestinians victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Jewish state was reestablished. However, Obama repeatedly alluded to Israel’s 3,000 years of Jewish history during his latest visit. He also paid an emblematic visit to the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, who had spoken of the need for a Jewish state since the 1800’s.
"Atem lo levad," said Obama in Hebrew as the nation tuned in to watch a speech directly chiefly at the Israeli people. “You are not alone.” Those three simple words, spoken in their native tongue, resonated with Israelis and reinforced that the president and the United States are irrevocably on the side of the Jewish state.
The president also pronounced that those who seek Israel's destruction "might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above." The powerful declaration is loaded with meaning, especially for Iran and its terrorist proxies who cling to the idea that the Jewish state can be wiped off the map.
Obama’s unequivocal statements that America is in Israel’s corner will hopefully discourage enemies of peace who have questioned America’s resolve when it comes to standing with Israel.
Another important result of Obama’s charm offensive was brokering reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. With a phone call to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, Netanyahu and Obama took a big step toward Israel and Turkeyre-normalizing relations. This development should have been particularly worrisome for Iran, given that its neighbor Turkey is wary of a nuclear-armed Tehran.
With regard to the Israeli Palestinian peace process (or lack thereof), Obama tried to elevate the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas above Hamas. President Obama encouraged both Israel and Palestine to move forward with a renewed peace talks, but was adamant that the Palestinians should not use settlements as a precondition and that they must demonstrate willingness to negotiate in good faith with Israel.
The sincerity of Obama will be put to the test now that the dust has settled and the visit is already fading into the rear-view mirror. Huge challenges still confront America’s closest ally in the region, but the Jewish state hopefully can walk a little taller today with the knowledge that the world’s only superpower has publicly and powerfully pledged to be in Israel’s corner.