Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Livni Loses, But What About Kadima?

Yesterday, Israel's centrist Kadima party held primary elections.  The winner of the primary, by a landslide (61.7% of the votes), was Shaul Mofaz, an Iranian born former IDF Chief of Staff.  Tzipi Livni lost with roughly 37.8% of the vote.  Turnout was 40% of the Kadima party base.

The results are a clear loss for Livni, who has struggled to remain relevant throughout the Netanyahu administration.  As Leader of the Opposition, she made a number of speeches attacking Prime Minister Netanyahu, but gained little traction against his right-wing coalition.  Given Livni's prominence though much of the short history of the Kadima party (founded in 2005), her loss has raised questions about the vitality of the party more broadly.

While Shaul Mofaz brings a military background which Israelis generally admire, how he will lead the party has been the subject of much debate by pundits and analysts over the past 24 hours.  One of the major issues with which Mofaz may be contending is a defection by many MKs to more liberal-leaning parties, especially if Mofaz attempts to form a coalition government with the Netanyahu administration.  Many of Kadima's more left-leaning constituents may defect as well given Mofaz's more conservative leanings compared to Livni.

Realignment of the current governing coalition may be particularly important to consider given the way far-right parties have limited the power of the Likud party over the past few years.  Given the increasing popularity of the Labor party under its new leader, Shelly Yachimovitch, Netanyahu may have an interest in forming a unity government in order to deny the Labor party moderate voters.  

On the other hand, Netanyahu's coalition shows little sign of fracture in the immediate future, and he may use Mofaz's election as a chance to fracture the left wing and consolidate his own hold on power.  In the coming days, both Netanyahu and Mofaz will likely signal each other as to their intentions in this regard.

But the lesson on a more institutional level may be about the role centrist parties play in parliamentary politics, especially when they are introduced into parliamentary systems where no such party existed before. Are Kadima's constituents reacting primarily to the performance of party elites to garner influence, or are they reacting to a shift in political preferences?  Given the stability of PM Netanyahu's coalition versus the landslide outser of Tzipi Livni, the answer is likely the former.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Which Future Is J Street Betting?

After a day of plenaries and panels,  J Street's 2012 conference has adjourned for the evening. The day's programming ended with the launch of the "Future of Pro-Israel" campaign which attempts to crowd source J Street's mission as an organization and gain more command over the pro-Israel narrative in the United States.  

The future has a lot of opportunities for J Street.  Excitement from students and among young adults towards the organization is high, particularly among the policy community here in Washington.  President Obama is likely, statistically, to win re-election this November.  The Israeli public is growing increasingly disillusioned with the policy of the current conservative government towards the West Bank.  This situation is only likely to be exacerbated as the government responds to today's Israeli Supreme Court ruling knocking down a deal between itself and settlers in Migron, an illegal settlement in the West Bank.  Finally, comments at this afternoon's plenary from Ilyse Hogue of The Nation about "coming out" as a supporter of J Street resonate deeply among members of the American Jewish community, many of whom have received the cold shoulder in their communities for their progressive views on Israel.

At the same time, J Street continues to be an organization of its constituents that has trouble packing a meaningful political punch in Washington D.C.  Now that its novelty has worn off, neither Haaretz, JPost, or Times of Israel feature the conference on their websites.  While debate over a boycott of West Bank settlement goods might be fair play for a J Street conference, it is beyond the pale for the American public and certainly for most members of Congress.   Additionally, J Street is not the only shop in town.  2,500 attendees are in DC for J Street, but 2,500 students alone attended AIPAC, and over 10,000 attendees came in total.  J Street may be the pro-2 State Solution camp now, but AIPAC is not an organization whose message is set in ideological stone.  Last year, the indefensible 1967 lines were the top priority at AIPAC.  This year, they hardly mattered.  As public opinion shifts towards the center and left over the coming decades, there is no obvious reason it will be a center AIPAC does not hold by slowly shifting its rhetoric over time.

What quickly becomes clear is that AIPAC and J Street inhabit two very different political spaces.  This afternoon's panel about Judaism and its relation to Israel crystallized these differences perfectly.  J Street might be focused on what American support for Israel can be, but AIPAC is focused on what it is now, and not only for Jews.  J Street talks values, AIPAC connects values to talking points, money, and action, and real outcomes.

None of this is to say that J Street should become more like AIPAC.  However, unless the Future of Israel campaign can serve as a bridge for J Street to the center of the American Jewish community, the organization is not likely to make a meaningful policy difference in Congress in any future likely to come to fruition soon.  Given the very important issues the conference has raised thus far regarding Israeli human rights, social inequality, and diplomacy, it is difficult not to be disappointed in this outcome.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

J Street 2012 Kicks Off Israeli Style

Tonight's opening session can be described as Israeli in many ways.  Most obviously, the event started 15 minutes late.  But the characterization goes much deeper than a small logistical snafu.

The J Street crowd had a particularly intimate vibe reminiscent of the intimacy of Israeli society, no easy feat given the 2,500 conference goers in the audience.  There was less applause than one would hear at an AIPAC conference, but it felt more organic when applause did break out.  J Street's choice to have three Israelis speak was likely a deliberate one, and it was admirable.  The speakers were diverse as well: Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, male and female, young and old, optimistic and pragmatic.

Stav Shaffir's comments, while a little vague, were well-recieved by the audience and resonated with the grassroots feel of J Street and its outreach efforts.  Of particular note, she pointed out that the true impact of the housing protests was to demonstrate that Israelis are not as cynical and complacent as many claim.  Shaffir and the protest movement deserve considerable credit for this achievement.  It is likely that the full impact of the mobilizing power of this summer's housing movement has not yet been realized in Israeli politics.

Micah Biton, the Mayor of Yeruham, was articulate and well-spoken.  It was impressive to see him link local, national, and international politics in Israel, a task not often asked of the mayor of a dusty peripheral development town.  Biton cast himself as something of a Corey Booker figure, and made political points that are worth taking seriously.  In particular, his comment that settlers are not the enemy is one Mideast policy analysts in Washington D.C. need to hear. That someone as clearly pragmatic as Biton would make such a statement is further evidence of the way settlers have become the bogeyman of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the eyes of Washington, in the humble opinion of this blogger.

Amos Oz, as a novelist, gave an extremely well-written speech.  While his knock against AIPAC will cost J Street in the professionalism department, the rest of his speech took a decidedly moderate tone.  What bears mention, of course, is that Oz is not a politician (though he is extremely political).  Unless Knesset MKs also believe in a 2-state solution with a division of Jerusalem, the excitement over Oz's ideas should not blind J Street's conference-goers to the ideological realities of the current Israeli government.

In summary, J Street's speakers were down to Earth and spoke intimately about Israel's domestic politics to a somewhat cozy audience.  In tonight's session, Israel was a society rather than an ideal type.  This approach to Israel is a stark contrast to AIPAC's flashy speakers, slickly-produced videos, and pinpoint messaging.  However, whether it mobilizes the center of the American Jewish community is an outcome yet to be seen.

J Street 2012 Opening Session Summary

The 2012 J Street Conference, "Making History," kicked off this evening at the Washington Convention Center at Washington D.C.  The opening session featured three Israeli speakers who shared their visions of Israel's present and its future.

The first speaker was Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of this summer's housing protest movement in Israel.  Shaffir spoke about the movement, including her arrest by Israeli police during an attempt to evict one of the movement's protest camps.  She urged conference goers to focus on Israeli society and its values.  "Our future cannot be guided by threats alone," Shaffir told an audience of roughly 2500, including 650 students.  As she left the podium, some audience members began chanting enthusiastically the protest movement's slogan: HaAm Doresh Tzedek Chevrati / The people demand social justice.

The next speaker was Micah Biton, mayor of the southern peripheral town of Yeruham.  Biton identified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and social inequality in Israel as the main challenges facing the country.  Noting his own military service in the Palestinian Territories as part of the Golani brigade, he noted that settlers themselves are not enemies of those who seek peace to scattered audience applause.  Biton also linked Israeli spending in the territories to a lack of investment in Israel's peripheral regions: the South and the Galilee.

The final speaker of the evening was noted Israeli novelist Amos Oz, who spoke with an unusual combination of moderation and idealism.  He began his speech with a pot shot at "extremist hawkish militant" AIPAC, and expressed support for the division of Jerusalem, a sometimes sensitive issue in Washington.  At the same time, he also characterized the 2-State Solution as a divorce.  The metaphor of the evening came when Oz identified Israeli and Palestinian leadership as the cause of intransigence in the Middle East: "The patients, Israelis and Palestinians, are ready for a painful surgery.  The doctors are cowards."  He concluded with the remark, "J Street, I have been waiting for you all my adult life."

Oz's comments were greeted with a prolonged standing ovation from conference-goers, and the session was concluded.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On The Murder Of Little Girls

Miriam Monsonego, Tolouse, France.
Zainab Rabea, Homs, Syria.

The two little girls never met.  They spoke different languages, liked different foods, and prayed to different gods.  But both were little girls.  They both had parents, and friends, and dreams.  They both brought joy to the worlds in which they lived.

Miriam and Zainab both died this week.  They were killed within 48 hours of each other.  They died of the same cause: gunshot wounds.  Their deaths caused the same anguish in their communities, the same outpourings of pure grief and pain, and the same questions about who in their right mind could bring themselves to commit such a notorious act as shooting a little girl.

Miriam and Zainab were murdered, but not for who they were or what they believed in.  They were both part of a complex, cruel, and often insensitive world.  It is a world in which men - grown and educated men - hold the righteousness of their ideas over the lives of others.  It is a world where men allow themselves to be blinded by fear and commit atrocities of an unspeakable nature.  It was not the bullets that were radical, despicable, and senseless.  Miriam and Zainab were killed by bullets, but they were murdered by politics.

Will it continue in the wake of their deaths?  Will politics beget politics in light of these two tragedies, unrelated in cause but completely related in sheer human suffering?  Or will these horrific acts of violence shock us out of the fragile political dwellings we inhabit into the cold world in which two little girls have been murdered?  Will we try to reconstruct our politics to seclude ourselves from the problem...or have the wisdom to see that politics is the problem?  As an answer becomes clear in the coming weeks, life will carry on past these cursed events.  Past the raw suffering and pain.  And past two small corpses which will soon lie in eternal rest and - we pray - in peace.

Miriam Monsonego, Tolouse, France.
Zainab Rabea, Homs, Syria.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Space Aliens End Syria Intervention Debate

On Wednesday, The Onion ran an article entitled "Alien World to Help Out Syria Since This One Refuses To."  The article contains a statement from the Emperor of Zarklom 12 announcing that he is sending an armada to Syria with the intention of "dislodging the al-Assad family from power; liberating cities such as Homs, which has been shelled by tanks and rockets unremittingly for a month; and freeing thousands of Syrians—many of them children—who have been imprisoned and tortured purely for political reasons."

There remains some question as to credibility of the statement given a lack of past interactions with Zarklom and also given that the Onion does not report real news.  However, an alien intervention in Syria would solve three of the most complex challenges facing American and European policymakers at the moment with regards to Syria.

1) Safety.  Certain alternatives to alien invasion at the moment are untested and could have global repercussions.   Reluctance by Western policy makers to start a zombie pandemic in Syria is well-founded, and those who support it may have ulterior motives such as driving up fundraising or selling books.  While an alien invasion is also untested, it seems the Empire of Zarlkom 12 has a much clearer plan of what it intends to do in Syria after an initial invasion.  As politics on Earth exactly 9 years ago Sunday tells us, having a plan for the post-invasion stage is very important to the success of your intervention, especially in the Middle East.  Of course, given that Zarklom 12 seems aware of this fact from 3 million light years away, Western policy makers are conceivably aware of the fact as well.  While avoiding quagmires is important, it must also not create inaction in the face of mass killings and the slaughter of innocents.

1) Norms. Multilateral intervention has become seen in the international community as less legitimate over time.  Adding to the complexity, intervention requires extensive diplomatic efforts to avoid the perception of a Western invasion of the Arab world or an attack on Islam should intervention in Syria occur.  Zarklom 12, however, is not part of the Western world or even the western edge of the Milky Way galaxy.  It is unlikely Zarklom will be at odds with Islam until Newt Gingrich founds a colony on one of their moons (2020 at the earliest).  But since Zarklom is not on Earth, certain taboos and rituals which we observe on Earth are thus not applicable to Zarklom 12.  This means that intervention carries a lower cost.  Of course, given the raw carnage on the ground in Syria, some would argue that the effort required to assemble this multilateral coalition is a small price to pay in and of itself.

2) Coordination problems.  Finally, multilateral intervention in Syria may be seen as more legitimate, but is difficult to coordinate.  The more actors involved, the lower the responsibility of each actor.  A multilateral intervention consisting of many states gives a lower and lower level of responsibility for success the more states involved.  A unilateral invasion by Zarklom 12 is a more feasible option because it gives a sole actor responsibility for each of the goals of intervention in Syria: toppling Assad, liberating Homs, and freeing Syrian political prisoners.  Of course, it may be problematic that sole responsibility is places on the shoulders of Zarklom 12.  A small-n coalition consisting of the US, UK, France, and UN with support from Arab bodies such as the AL and GCC would be the optimal balance of the responsibility-to-efficacy ratio.

While certain logistical details remain, an alien invasion seems ultimately one of the more feasible options for immediate intervention in Syria.  It is crucial we support this invasion.  If Zarklom 12 should not follow through, it will only reintroduce the immense strategic, logistical, and moral complexities of intervention in Syria back into the ongoing debate here in Washington.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why The Israel Gaza Flare Up Won't Last

In the past 48 hours, over 100 rockets have targeted cities and towns in Southern Israel.  The rockets come in the wake of Israel's killing of the head of the Popular Resistance Committee Zuhir al-Qaisi, with intelligence indicating he was planning a major attack on Israel's southern border.  Palestinian groups responded to the killing with rocket attacks.  In response to these attacks, Israel targeted 15 militants in the Gaza Strip with airstrikes this morning.  Tonight's rockets are a response to those airstrikes.

The script, as Haaretz's Amos Harel opines, is well known in this case.  The tit-for-tat strikes are likely to calm down in a few days.  However, there are two factors in particular which may have an extra calming effect on Israel-Gaza violence.

First, Egypt has been offering to mediate a cease-fire between the sides.  The security situation on the Israeli-Egyptian border is a matter of mutual concern for both governments, and only more so as the Egyptian presidential election process begins (with registration of candidates today).  Israel is concerned about the long-term stability of that border, and has an interest in mitigating violence there.  The original decision to target a senior insurgent in Gaza was likely based on this interest.  Israel probably calculated the current response from Gaza, but saw preventing an attack on the border as an event with a far higher cost.

Second, Israel is fresh out of the AIPAC spotlight and has an interest on keeping international and US pressure on Iran.  A back and forth between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza distracts the global media from the story the Israeli government would prefer to be in the headlines.  Israel has an interest in wrapping up this back and forth as soon as possible so it can refocus the agenda on Iran's nuclear program, which it views as the biggest threat to its security.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Obama Iran Policy Survives AIPAC Intact

President Obama's comments today cautioning against military action on Iran demonstrate the extent to which the anti-Iran rhetoric at AIPAC over the past few days has been rhetoric without much real policy leverage.  The Obama administration has also expressed support for a new round of talks between Iran and world powers.

Both these actions are are consistent with Obama's careful speech to AIPAC on Sunday morning, in which he expressed a willingness to use force but a preference to use diplomatic pressure.  While Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell urged drawing red lines and used the term "overwhelming force" multiple times in his speech at last night's gala, Obama rightly recognizes the dangers of military intervention in Iran.  In a swipe at McConnell, Obama said today that "Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities.  They are not Commander in Chief."

But while intended as a political swipe, this point is also an objective statement of fact.  The Obama administration will continue to resist attempts to pressure it into over-committing on Iran, and the choice to strike or not is one which will be made in the executive branch.  That the Obama administration is resisting this over-committment is not weak.  It is smart policy making about an incredibly complex foreign policy dilemma.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has no problem with the administration's position, and said so before 14,000 Israel supporters last night.  Neither does President Peres, who also said so before the same crowd.  It is puzzling that a small contingent of conservative Americans is drawing a harder line than the leaders of the State of Israel on an issue of American and Israeli security.

A post on this blog yesterday opined that despite AIPAC's attempts to define clear talking points on Iran, the complexity of the situation will dilute the efficacy of these efforts.  Today's news confirms that the administration continues to hold an appreciation for the complexity of the Iran issue and the reticence of the American public to commit to another war in the Middle East.  While a rhetorical firestorm on Iran rages, the administration has been successful at staying out of the fray.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Summary - Netanyahu Speech To AIPAC

Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to AIPAC this evening was, as expected, a crystallized case for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

With the most receptive crowd the Prime Minister will likely address all year, Netanyahu was folksy with the crowd, commenting that Iran's claims were "chutzpah" and making jokes about the Iranian regime "walking, talking, and looking like a duck...a nuclear duck."

The Prime Minister also thanked President Obama and reiterated that there were no disagreements on Iran between his and the Obama administration.  The speech was non-confrontational towards the Obama administration and significantly to the center of comments earlier in the evening by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

In a dramatic moment, the Prime Minister showed the audience letters to the Jewish Agency from the US government stating that it would not attack the tracks leading to the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.  He then remarked that while the US government is different now, so too are the Jewish people, and linked the anecdote to a Jewish state which is and must be able to defend itself.

The Prime Minister concluded his speech by invoking the Purim story, as many other speakers have done from the AIPAC stage.  He spoke for a total of 30 minutes.

Iran Is Beyond AIPAC's Reach, 2SS Is Not

To say that AIPAC Policy Conference 2012 has focused on Iran would be an understatement.  Every major speaker has, in their own capacity, referenced the danger Iran poses to Israel.  The catchphrase of the conference, "Iran must not be allowed to gain a nuclear capacity."  has been repeated by AIPAC officials, President Obama, and will likely be driven home tonight in Prime Minister Netanyahu's gala address to the conference.  

Of course, what constitutes nuclear capacity, and what exactly the US and Israel should do to prevent it is a message not communicated by either the catchphrase or by AIPAC more generally.  Is nuclear capacity a certain percentage of enrichment?  Is it an imminent capability to weaponize?  Similar questions exist surrounding the specifics of the "military option."  Is it a strike on government buildings in Tehran?  Is is a strike on the nuclear facility in Natanz?  Is it a cyber-attack? 

It would be easy to chalk this vagueness up to messaging.  Policy specifics are hardly ever a topic of discussion at such conferences.  But there is a more important reason for the use of a catch-all phrase like "capability." 

It is because Iran is an incredibly complex issue whose outcome is almost entirely beyond the purview of AIPAC.

To not use Iran as an agenda item would be foolish. That multiple speakers have referred to the soap operatic story of Purim in their speeches speaks to the easy usage of the issue for caricature.  Israel is Queen Esther, bravely acting in danger to defend her people.  Iran is Haman, the villain who seeks the annihilation of the Jews.  Pro-Israel lobbyists could not ask for a better Haman than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Middle-Eastern bearded man yelling about the Holocaust and nuclear weapons. 

Clarity about which player is which, however, is as clear as it was when Iran announced the construction of two nuclear sites in Iran ten years ago. The real politics over the Iran issue is a game which is more complex than three-dimensional chess.  Israel wants a green light from the United States to strike Iran.  But this strike would almost definitely have lethal repercussions for Israel and perhaps other Western states.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is not asking President Obama for permission to strike Iran.  He is asking for assurances of support if Israel chooses to do so at an indeterminate point in the future.  Discussions in the Israeli press indicate this issue is still largely a matter of discussion in the Jewish state, just as they are being hotly debated in the United States.

Since the issue is so complex, neither Israel or the United States are clear on what course of action to take.  This means that the best AIPAC can do is advocate for keeping open an option that both the US and Israel have already expressly stated is open. It can keep Iran high on the agenda - just as it has been since early January.  Ultimately, despite what cynics claim, AIPAC is not pushing the US and Israel into a war with Iran - because it's simply unclear to both governments that it would be a wise option.

This all would be fair enough if there weren't also a myriad of other issues on which AIPAC could exert leverage, but does not.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, poses a far greater threat over the long term to Israel than the Iranian nuclear program.  But old habits die hard, and the only discussion in plenary sessions of Palestinians is when they are being described as terrorists, people who hate peace, or agents of Israel's destruction.  It was noticeable the number of times AIPAC's leaders have recognized the 1600 students who are attending the Policy Conference.  Youth outreach is important to AIPAC's longevity as an organization.  However, the long-term implications of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain an issue of discussion in the pro-Israel community long after the outcome of the Iranian nuclear issue is known. 

If AIPAC is serious about engaging this younger generation it must engage on issue which matter to them.  There is no better way to do this than to support US-Israel engagements which create meaningful and grounded progress on the two-state solution.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

AIPAC Starts With GOP Smear And A Threat To Iran

There are two key points which merit consideration from this morning's opening plenary session at AIPAC policy conference.

The first is Liz Cheney's comment about President Obama being the worst pro-Israel president in history, which are likely to be repeated on in the news media over the next few days.  The question is not one of Cheney's intentions.  Liz Cheney is an incredibly intelligent and deliberate strategist, and her comments were not at all an ad-lib.  The real question is why AIPAC decided to put the head of the far-right Keep America Safe on the opening panel alongside a conservative TV commentator (Yaari) and the head of the Wilson Center for International Scholars (Harman).  Given the liberal tone of President Peres and President Obama's comments, starting with a message on Iran that leaned right makes sense given AIPAC's constituency.  The question is whether the panel pushed the US and Israel towards unity, or exploited an opportunity to continue a partisan smear campaign against the President of the United States.  AIPAC generally has an interest in staying above partisanship.  This panel likely did not advance those interests.

Second, President Obama said in his speech that "Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs [emphasis added]."  The phrase "sovereign right to make its own decision" is of critical importance given discussions over whether Israel would inform the U.S. of imminent intentions to strike Iran.  It is also important given President Obama's focus during the speech on communicating US resolve to Iran.  While it is unlikely the Obama administration has given Israel an amber light to strike Iran, public statements that Israel has a sovereign right to its own decisions on Iran should be worrying for the Iranian leadership.  In international relations, "unlikely" is usually not enough reassurance for a government to sleep well at night.  President Obama's rhetoric may be intended to ratchet up pressure, especially given that the language was specifically directed at Iran's leaders.

Of course, the true test of whether the US and Israel's message is unified will be Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to AIPAC tomorrow.  Stay tuned for summaries and analysis on this blog, and live-tweets of the plenary sessions.

AIPAC Opening Plenary Summary: Iran Crossfire

AIPAC's 2012 policy conference began this morning here in Washington D.C.  The opening plenary began with a foreign policy panel moderated by Times Of Israel editor-in-chief David Horovitz featuring Liz Cheney, Arutz 2 commentator Ehud Yaari, and Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman.  Cheney and Harman sparred on President Obama's record throughout the panel, and Cheney ended her remarks by saying that no president had done more to undermine and delegitimize Israel than President Obama.  She predicted next year's conference would be held under a new administration.  Harman retorted that Israel should not be made a partisan issue, to significantly larger applause than that which Cheney received for her original comments.

Cheney's remarks resonated throughout the rest of the (largely scripted) plenary, with speakers posing for an ironic laugh here and there while discussing Israel as a non-partisan issue.  But her comments may fan fears by some that AIPAC is pressuring the administration into war with Iran by questioning the President's commitment to Israel.

Luckily, this appeared not to be the case in the rest of the plenary.  Israeli President Shimon Peres gave a speech largely designed to shape his legacy as president, not to pressure the United States.  He began by thanking President Obama extensively.  Critically, he defined peace as a security interest for Israel.  His corny entrance on stage (walking between rows of children singing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav) was balanced out by carefully crafted remarks about peace, engagement with the Arab world, and the two-state solution.  Peres demonstrated in this speech why he is a true statesman and a huge asset to the Israeli government.

Ending out the plenary was the much-anticipated speech by President Obama.  In a speech being described as "giving it to them straight," Obama expressed support for Israel on its Iran policy while also cautioning AIPAC delegates to consider the true cost of war.  Given that only a minority of Americans (17% in January) support all-out war with Iran, this was a wise move on the part of the President.  While expressing support for the two-state solution, President Obama was careful to avoid language about the 1967 borders this year, a sign that if contention is to arise between the US and Israel at the conference, it will not be initiated by the Obama administration.

The most important line of Obama's speech was: "Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs."  Analysts should consider the phrase "sovereign right to make its own decisions" very carefully because it may imply the US will respect a decision by Israel to unilaterally strike Iran.