Tuesday, 15 November 2011 00:00
The article below will be published on 17 Novemember in the Australian Jewish News
This week, the Australia welcomed the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. His visit marks the 60th anniversary of Australia's security alliance with the United States (ANZUS). Both countries reemphasised the "tachlis" (essence) of our alliance with upgraded US presence with military training in Northern Australia. Our joint Intelligence facilities at Pine Gap with its famous radomes remain the most important satellite surveillance station outside continental USA. Former Defence Minister Robert Ray said Pine Gap provided vital time and information directly to Israel when Saddam launched Scud missiles against the Jewish State. Presumably Pine Gap's satellites retain the same capacity with the evil regime in Iran.
From the beginning of his Presidency, President Obama has reached out in his Cairo speech to the Arab and Muslim world. He was perceived as having frosty relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some have been critical of the President Barack Obama's early posture on the Middle East. Rhetorical positions should be contrasted with what the US actually does.
I would argue, however that there is a reassuring continuity in US policy, indeed one can clearly see in Obama's opposition to the unilateral moves via the UN to declare a Palestinian State.
Australia was one of only 14 countries joining the Obama led coalition to vote against the admission of Palestine as a state to UNESCO (58 countries abstained). Prime Minister Gillard has received too little credit for her personal decision on this matter, highlighted by attacks on her by Australia's former UN Ambassador Peter Woolcott. Prime Minister Gillard is clearly in accord with President Obama on this issue and both leaders insist that unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the UN are no substitute for direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Barrack Obama defended his remarks overheard stating they were in response to French President Sarkozy's policy of supporting the Palestinians at UNESCO. But even this rhetorical explanation aside, this should be should be contrasted with what the US actually does.
The so far successful policy at the Security Council to block a unilateral Palestinian State is a case in point. Yes Palestinians will get observer status on 29th of November from the General Assembly, the result of the automatic Muslim and Arab bloc. It is Obama's remarkable campaign against Abbas which has meant the US has not even had to exercise its veto at the Security Council against a unilateral Palestinian State.
President Obama has led the recent international campaign of increasing sanctions against Iran. Responding to the bellicose threats from Tehran against Israel, unilateral US sanctions have crippled Iranian financial, shipping companies and officials, slowing Tehran's drive to nuclear weapons.
Many within the Jewish community have expressed some disappointment at the US policy towards the peace process. Many would argue that the President has taken a harder line against Israel settlements than previous administrations. However, we need to remember that the security relationship between the United States and Israel remains strong.
Obama has increased drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, taking out hundreds of Islamist terrorists. He has also taken out an estimated 20 Al Qaeda leaders, including Bin Laden. The Obama Administration has enhanced Israel's defence against attack by, integrating Israeli and US ballistic missile defence, as well as delivering the long-delayed 55 GBU-28 bunker-buster bombs, a crucial capability strike for any future military against Iranian nuclear sites. Over the last two years, a mysterious virus called the Struxnet disrupted a nuclear site in Iran. According to the New York Times, many believe the virus was part of a joint intelligence operation between the Israelis and the US.
Whatever the transient difficulties between individual US and Israeli leaders are, the United States and long term American policy remains in the Middle East, as in our Pacific region, an over whelming force for good.
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month President Obama reiterated the United States support for Israel: "America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.... Let's be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbours that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel's citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them."
Michael Danby is Chair of the parliament's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee and also head's the Australia-US parliamentary Friendship Group.
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