While not a charmer of Clinton’s stature, Obama has a remarkable ability to convey complex ideas. In his first campaign for president, he spoke honestly and subtly about uncomfortable topics: racial tensions, income inequality and international affairs. If used wisely, the same ability may be instrumental in conveying tough policy disagreements with Netanyahu’s government — on issues where moderate Israelis may be at odds with their government — while simultaneously expressing genuine affinity toward Israel and an understanding of Israelis’ security concerns.
An appeal to the Israeli public could help resolve the paradox of Obama’s standing in Israel. On the one hand, relations between the countries — in the way of sharing intelligence and technology — are closer than ever. The remarkable success of the Iron Dome missile-defense system, the hero of Israel’s latest conflict with Hamas, is a case in point.The Israeli system was developed with U.S. financial backing of more than $200 million in 2011, in addition to annual military assistance and further aid this past year. On the other hand, the public does not trust Obama’s gut instincts about Israel.
In his second term, the president should visit Israel to speak directly to the public. He should explain yet again, in plain language, what seems obvious to many in Washington: that although he disagrees with Netanyahu about settlements and how to pursue peace with the Palestinians, his positions stem from — rather than contradict — his commitment to Israel. Most acutely, he should convey — yet again — his resolve to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, a commitment that is appreciated here in Washington but grossly underestimated in Israel. Such an appeal could go a long way toward getting Israelis to trust him on Iran, rather than opt for a unilateral Israeli strike.