Israeli media: Obama’s the loser
By: Hadas Gold
September 11, 2013 10:03 AM EDT
The Arab media has been butchering President Barack Obama’s image in the Middle East, portraying him as weak, lacking leadership, and scheming for American domination. But he’s not faring much better in the United States’ closest ally in the region – Israel.
A review of Israeli media by POLITICO shows a few clear story lines: Vladimir Putin has outplayed the president; Iran is strengthened; and Obama is a weak leader that Israel may no longer be able to count on to help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
On the front page of Tuesday’s Israel Hayom, a neoconservative paper, the banner headline read “Russian Roulette.” Maariv, a center-right paper, ran a cartoon over the weekend of Putin as a cat prowling around Obama who had been drawn as a little bird in a cage. The left-leaning Haaretz ran a series of cartoons featuring Obama and Putin with one, titled “Scapegoat” showing Obama unsuccessfully chasing a chicken with the face of Bashar al-Assad while Putin looks on.
“Putin is benefiting no less than the U.S. He’s positioning Russia as a worthwhile empire through the crisis so far,” wrote Ron Ben-Yeshai, a popular columnist for Ynet.com, a web version of centrist newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday. “He mainly garners himself international prestige as not only the responsible adult, but also the creative one, who killed three birds with one stone: Prevent future use of chemical weapons by Syria, thus placing himself as part of Western society; stall or prevent an American strike in Syria; and remain loyal to his client, Assad, which gives him extra points in the Middle East.”
The lead story on many Israeli newspapers and websites on Wednesday - after Obama’s speech to the nation - focused on a potential deal between Russia and Iran that would supply missile systems to Iran and help it build a second nuclear reactor. Iran’s President, Hassan Rowhani, is set to meet Putin on Friday during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Kyrgyzstan.
“Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave…the Russians are making a comeback, thanks to the Obama administration,” wrote Yehuda Balanga, a professor at Bar Ilan University, in an opinion piece for Maariv on Tuesday, according to a translation by POLITICO. “Despite its support of the ‘bad guys’ of the Middle East (Iran and Syria), Russia seems now more than ever to have a solution to the Syrian crisis in their hands.”
On Wednesday, most Israeli papers did not feature a photo of the president on their front pages - instead Putin and Syrian rebels dominated. The few who did feature Obama, such as the Hebrew version of Haaretz, the popular website Walla, or the English-language newspaper The Jerusalem Post, ran photos of the president from behind, looking down, or from far away.
Pundits in a conversation taped for Ynet.com said after Obama’s Tuesday address to the nation that the President had appeared confused and vacilating until Putin gave Obama a ladder from which to climb down from the ledge of asking Congress for military intervention.
“Putin spread out a safety net for Obama after he jumped,” Lior Weintraub, the former spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Washington, said in the segment.
The Israeli media isn’t sure how to treat Obama’s actions but is skeptical of the end result, said Nadav Eyal, director of Israel Channel 10’s foreign news desk.
“The Israeli media itself, we don’t know how to treat this. We simply don’t,” Eyal told POLITICO. “We all agree that if the end scenario was Syria, in a short time span, losing all its chemical weapons and without a military strike, it’s a fantastic result. But we’re very skeptic this end result will materialize.”
Many in the Israeli media question whether Obama is considering Russia’s option just to get out of the situation, Eyal added.
“The main question being asked, and I don’t think only Israeli media is: Does the president believe this is a viable option or is he just using this to get down from the tree limb?” Eyal said.
But not all of the Israeli media were critical. Some praised the president for the delay in military action, since it could have led to Syrian or Iranian retaliation on Israel.
Aner Shalev, a professor at the Hebrew University, wrote in the English language version of Haaretz on Wednesday that the method being used in Syria, the threat of military action leading to diplomatic solutions, could be a roadmap for how to handle Iran.
“If the precedent of a genuine military threat leading to an agreed neutralizing of unconventional weapons works in Syria, there’s a good chance it will also work in Iran,” he said. “Nevertheless, there’s something refreshing in a leader who isn’t happy about rushing into battle, and keeps examining all the alternatives until the very last moment.”