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NOLAN FINLEY

Finley: Does the U.S., Obama stand with Israel?

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Does America still have Israel’s back?

That’s the question Israelis are asking now that the nuclear agreement with Iran is a done deal. The pact represents the biggest break in Israel/U.S. relations in decades. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbied hard and unsuccessfully for its defeat in Congress, rightly worried that it puts Iran on a direct party to a nuclear weapon.

With the ink dry, Israel is now weighing whether the United States and President Barack Obama can still be counted on to stand with the Jewish state in an increasingly chaotic and volatile region.

I sat down last week with Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and author of the new book, “Ally, My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.”

What Oren wants to know from Washington is, if Israel has to move defensively against Hezbollah, how much support can it count on from the United States?

“Hezbollah has not fired a single rocket in the Syrian civil war; they’re saving them all for us,” Oren says. “We will be headed to the United Nations Security Council. Will the U.S. provide us with a diplomatic Iron Dome?”

The Iron Dome is the missile defense system protecting much of Israel from rocket attacks. It was highly effective at intercepting rockets fired from Gaza during the 2014 conflict with Hamas.

Now that the threat from Iran has increased, the shield must be strengthened, and Israel is right to expect U.S. hardware and technical help.

But, as Oren says, it also needs America’s arm on its shoulder on the world stage, where Israel has precious few reliable friends. The U.S. consistently kills United Nations resolutions challenging Israel’s legitimacy and condemning its moves to defend itself from Palestinian attacks.

Oren says, “I can’t tell you how confident I am” in Obama’s commitment.

That’s troubling. Israel’s 10-year, $30 billion arms sales agreement with the United States expires in 2017. It would like Obama to extend and expand it before he leaves office in light of the increased threat from Iran. That would send an important message about his intentions toward Israel.

U.S. influence is crumbling in the Middle East. The red line Obama drew for the Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad has turned into a red carpet for Vladimir Putin to march in and become the dominant player in that conflict.

Islamic State, the rag-tag terrorist outfit Oren says “the U.S. Army could put down in a week” if it had the will, continues to drive the worst refugee crisis the world has seen in a half century. And the region has stopped looking to the U.S. for leadership.

“The impression among the vast majority of the people in the Middle East is that America is no longer willing to project power,” Oren says. “There is a diminishing of confidence in both Israel and the entire region” in America’s willingness to step up.

Leadership voids embolden bad actors. And that leaves Israel particularly vulnerable.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets in Lebanon, all pointed toward Israel — 10 times the number it had during the 2006 war.

When it decides to start firing them, will a U.S. president who had so little regard for Israeli security in crafting the deal with Iran place America’s might between Israel and this shower of death?

nfinley@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2064

Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on “MiWeek” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.