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US Nods As Arabs Challenge IAEA Over Israeli Nuclear Capability

The Israelis have a problem. Their American ally has taken on a face not seen since Israel's re-founding over 60 years ago. The Obama administration's defenders will argue that this is finally simply America being the "honest broker" it has always said it was. But Israelis, alone on a sea of adversaries, call it something else: Betrayal. There's no pleasant way to put it and be taken seriously.

Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has decided to list - for the first time - Israel's ambiguous nuclear capability as one of its issues to be tackled at an upcoming IAEA board meeting next month. What's clear here is that, under President Obama, US support for Israel's nuclear policy is eroding. Fast.

One diplomatic official said that the US has relayed messages to Israel that it will not let its nuclear position be harmed, but added that these assurances are being received with some skepticism amid the realization that while in the past the US has killed such discussions in international forums, this time it failed to do so.

In international relations-speak, that message unmistakably means "our lips are still smiling to your face, but surely you can see the look in our eyes has changed." And changed indeed.

The President of the United States must, from time to time, be sure to hold press conferences and assure that Israel is one of America's most important allies. The impetus for these media chats remains that Barack Obama's animous and disdain for Israel runs so deep and so passionately that it makes itself plain - too plain - in day to day relations with the Jewish state.

But Arab states demanded the IAEA take up the subject. It can still be removed from the agenda with enough US and Israeli & allied push. But regardless of what happens this time, going forward - under this American administration - the pressure will be relentless and from all sides, including quiet American support for the Arab challanges. And Israel knows this.

If the US is slowly changing its policy, it would, one observer pointed out, run against commitments former US President George Bush gave former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his famous 2004 letter that paved the way for Sharon's decision to disengage from Gaza.

In that letter, which dealt primarily with the Palestinian issue, and which Israel interpreted as a US acceptance of settlement blocs and a rejection of the Palestinian claim to a right of refugee return, Bush also wrote, "The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel's security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats."

The last sentence from President Bush is vital. In case you've forgotten, have a look at a map. You will find Israel surounded by hostile neighbors. And her historical best friend (and often her only friend) is an American people and American state a sea and an ocean away. Deterence keeps the Iranian and Syrian jackals at bay, among others. Do not confuse any perception of Bashar Assad's fear of complete destruction with his wanting peace. One plays well for cameras, the other inspiers action - or in this case, inaction.

Perhaps this ever-present reality is the reason that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu still receives high marks from the Israeli public on his handlihg of US relations (56% very good or good) as opposed to President Obama (48% very poor or poor).

A telling number is that only 34% of Israelis see President Obama as "very friendly or friendly." That should be startling.

Then again, perhaps it's just time for another Washington press conference in order to 'clarify' things.

The Israelis understand pretty clearly. So do the Arabs. So does the IAEA. And here we are.

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