Obama's Impact on Israel's Future

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - During his first week in office, President Barack Obama said at least one thing Israelis wanted to hear.

"Let me be clear. America is committed to Israel's security, and we will always support Israel's right to defend itself," Obama said.

Like the United States, Israel will soon have a new government, after national elections on February 10.

Click play to get hear Gordon Robertson's comments following this CBN News report.

While all the candidates for prime minister are publicly praising Obama, there is concern behind the scenes that his plans may weaken Israel's security.

Former Israeli liaison to the U.S. Congress Yoram Ettinger says the biggest difference between the Obama administration and the Bush White House is that there will be talk with sponsors of terrorism, rather than isolation. That could be one of the reasons why Robert Gates is still defense secretary.

"And Secretary Gates does subscribe to the Baker Report, which calls for dialogue with Iran, dialogue with Syria, dialogue with radical anti-U.S. regimes, which is consistent with Obama's ideology [and] totally inconsistent with Bush [and] Cheney," Ettinger told CBN News.

Most of Obama's advisors also strongly oppose any U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, which are Israel's greatest threat.

Retired U.S. Air Force General Thomas McInerney says it's a mistake to talk with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and believes that a world in chaos will lead to the coming of the Muslim messiah.

"You cannot let people like that have nuclear weapons, and the United States should stand up on this issue," McInerney said.

"You cannot deter that kind of mindset, and if anybody thinks they can and if they think negotiations will work, I must assure you they are doomed to failure," he said.

Some Israelis are also concerned that the new administration will push for the division of Jerusalem and force Jewish residents to leave the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

President Obama's first overseas call also raised eyebrows in Israel. It was to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

And earlier this week, Obama gave his first formal television interview as president to the Muslim al-Arabiya network.

"And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives," Obama told the al-Arabiya interviewer.

"My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy," he said.

The new U.S. president has also indicated his support for the 2002 Saudi-initiated peace plan, which calls for Israel to cede all territory taken in the 1967 Six Day War in exchange for normalizing relations with the Arab world.

The Saudi plan includes forfeiting the most strategic defense positions in the land, including the Golan Heights.

"In the Middle East neighborhood," that means suicidal lines," Ettinger said.

It also calls for partitioning Jerusalem and agreeing to the return of millions of descendants of an estimated 650,000 Palestinians who left Israel before and during the 1948 War of Independence.

Israel can also expect a push from Arab states and some European countries to legitimize Hamas, though the White House denies that the President supports this.

"They're a terrorist group," Ettinger said. "Hamas is [as] bad as the Nazis. So why would you give them legitimacy?" Ettinger asked.

"That's extraordinarily naïve, and if he does it, he'll rue the day he did it. I hope he doesn't," he said.

The White House plans for Israel and the Middle East will be relatively low key and ceremonial until after the Israeli elections, now less than two weeks away.

But the President has promised to be active in the pursuit of peace, which could mean rougher times between the U.S. and Israel in the coming years.

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Chris Mitchell and John Waage

Chris Mitchell and John Waage

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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