BY JONATHAN TOBIN, COMMENTARY—
The campaign of administration leaks aimed at undermining Israel’s position on Iran has been widely noted. But according to Robert Satloff, the respected head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the White House isn’t satisfied with blaming Israel for the chance that Americans might be killed in the event force is used against Iran. Satloff says the Israelis see President Obama as blaming them for rising oil prices as well.
In comments quoted in the WorldTribune.com: Satloff, who met “virtually everybody in the Iran debate,” said the Israeli leadership also saw the administration as blaming Israel for the sharp rise in U.S. gasoline prices. He said Washington attributed the higher prices to “Israel’s posturing” on Iran. “They think the Iranians should be held responsible for the higher gasoline prices,” Satloff said.
The possibility that Washington would seek to scapegoat Israel for higher oil prices is an ominous development. While there have been, as yet, no public statements to that effect, or, as is generally the case with this administration, front page features in the New York Times claiming this is what anonymous senior officials are thinking, Israeli may believe this is something they expect to happen. Perhaps by making their fears on this score public, they hope to head off what they believe is an obvious next step from an administration that is friendly to Israel in public but oozing with hostility off the record.
Rising gas prices are a direct threat to the president’s re-election and, as some administration officials made clear in a leaked story in the Times last week, they think Obama’s desire to sound tough on Iran in order to win votes in November is heightening tension with Tehran. As that leak made clear, the president has boxed himself in with his public declaration that he was not willing to “contain” a nuclear Iran. That means the U.S. and its European allies are going to have to make good on their threat of an oil embargo this summer, just when gas prices normally go up anyway. If Obama and the Euros blink on Iran and pass on the embargo, they will rightly be accused of appeasing the ayatollahs. In the event that they keep their word and choke off Iran’s oil export business, the consequent dislocation of petroleum supplies will cause a politically expensive hike in the price of gas.
The Israelis are right to complain that if anyone should be blamed, it is Iran. It should also be pointed out that if Obama hadn’t wasted much of his first three years in office trying to “engage” Iran rather than enforcing sanctions on the regime, he might not be in this bind now. Blame should also go to those countries that may well continue to buy Iranian oil, such as China, India and Obama’s special friend, Turkey.
But while U.S. officials may grouse about Israeli pressure to act on Iran and leak damaging stories about them to the press, any comments that could be traced back to the White House about Israel and oil prices would boomerang on the president. Scapegoating the Jews on oil is exactly the sort of strategic mistake rooted in the administration’s true sentiments that could have a highly negative impact on the voters in November.