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.