Chemi Shalev
Haaretz (Opinion)
August 26, 2012 - 12:00am

In many of the conspiracy theories that have been presented in recent weeks in the Israeli press concerning the possibility of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran, one theme has been constant: it would put President Barack Obama in a bind and possibly hurt his chances in the November elections as well.

Both developments, according to press reports, were part and parcel of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu considerations in pressing for an early attack. Republicans, it was said, not only subscribed to this assessment but also were egging Netanyahu on to in order to help Mitt Romney’s chances in November. The Israeli commentators, it sometimes seemed, accepted this conventional wisdom as if it was cast in stone.

It was left to political strategist Karl Rove, grandmaster of Republican tactics and chief advisor to the pro-Republican super-PAC “American Crossroads”, to blow this cockamamie theory out of the water. Appearing on Fox News last week, Rove made clear that any flare up with Iran would only serve Obama’s interests. Americans, he said, would instinctively rally around their Commander in Chief and Obama’s standing in the polls would immediately improve.

Rove went a step further and more or less warned Israel not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities too early. In a comment that did not receive the media attention it deserved, Rove said that a military strike on Iran needs to wait until what Rove described as “a moment of vulnerability” - and that won’t happen until the Iranians bring all their fissile material “to a central site in order to be machined into a weapon or weapons.”

“They’ve got to wait until it’s brought together”, Rove said, and one can assume that such a moment won’t arrive, according to Rove’s strategic calculated, before November 6.

All four panelists on NBC’s Chris Matthews show this Sunday concurred with the political part of Rove’s analyses. A war with Iran, former ABC broadcaster Sam Donaldson said, would change the dynamics of the election campaign, draw attention away from the troubled economy and allow Obama to showcase his experience while accentuating Mitt Romney’s lack thereof. Foreign affairs and national security, after all, is the one area in which Obama enjoys a clear advantage over Romney in all the public opinion polls, they noted.

Another misplaced piece of the misguided conventional wisdom in Jerusalem is that an Israeli attack that would take place before the elections would force Obama to suppress his supposedly natural inclination to abandon Israel in its time of need. He would have to succumb to overwhelming public pressure and support Israel, both diplomatically and militarily, because of pure electoral considerations, according to this theory.

But this assessment may also be light years away from reality, a by product of the irrationally critical view of Obama’s shared by strident Republican Jewish critics who are close to Netanyahu and to some of his officials and who genuinely believe that Obama is a socialist/pacifist who would like nothing better than to see Israeli cities burn. Only his sense of self-preservation before the elections, they believe, might cause Obama to act against his usual anti-Jewish instincts.

Back on earth, however, it is far from clear that there would be any real pressure by the American public to get the US involved in another Middle East war. Opinion polls on the American public’s attitude towards US military involvement in Iran are all over the place, depending on the wording of the questions, but they consistently show wide support for Obama’s policy of exploring all other options first. They may very well accept the President’s judgment even if he opts against committing the US to a military confrontation.

Secondly, most people who know Obama maintain that if his hand is forced, either by Iran or by Israel, the President would not hesitate to send the American bombers on their way, elections or no elections, not only if Iran attacks American targets directly but also to help Israel, if it turns out that it cannot fend for itself. At the height of an election campaign, such a crisis would doubtlessly entail the fringe benefit of forcing Republican candidates Romney and Paul Ryan to support the President and to put aside their criticism while guns are blazing and American lives are in danger. And any reckoning with Jerusalem over its refusal to accede to the Administration’s demand to give peace another chance my indeed come - but only after the situation has stabilized and the elections are long over.

In fact, the very foundations of a theory that a war before elections would hurt Obama’s chances in the elections are so far fetched that it is actually unreasonable to believe that a seasoned Americanologist such as Netanyahu would subscribe to it. But now that Republicans appear to be actually warning him off – does this mean that war has been postponed? On the other hand, would Netanyahu’s Republican benefactors ever forgive him if it turned out that it was his decision to pull the trigger that actually ensured Obama’s second term?


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017