TheDC interview: Michael Oren, Israel’s face in America

One area that that is impossible to avoid when discussing Israel’s situation in the Middle East is the seeming tension in the U.S.-Israel relationship since Barack Obama was elected president. Oren’s job is to improve relations, so it is unlikely he will speak ill of the American president to any journalist. So, instead of asking Oren whether President Obama was a good friend of Israel, I asked him whether the president could be considered the best friend Israel has ever had in an American president?

“I think Obama is the best friend in ways that are different sometimes than other best friends,” Oren said diplomatically. “We have had a number of best friends as president.”

“Here, I’ll give you an example,” Oren elaborated. “December 2 there was a Hanukkah party at the White House. That was the night that a huge fire broke out in the Carmel forest. It was our largest natural disaster. And I’m walking into the White House and I get a call from Prime Minister Netanyahu saying we need emergency, right now we need planes, firefighting planes, we don’t have any firefighting planes. Go ask the president of the United States for firefighting planes. So I go in the White House, meet the president, tell him the message from the prime minister. He turns to Reggie Love [the president’s personal assistant] and says, ‘Whatever Israel wants, get Israel immediately.’ And then that night he flew off to Afghanistan … The first call he made when he arrived in Afghanistan was back to the White House to find out if Israel had gotten the planes … Of the 11 fire fighting planes that the United States had, we got eight of them — including special firefighting units, these commando units, amazing, called hot spots. All within 24 hours. Now that’s what I call a best friend.”

But does Obama rise to the Bush standard?

That isn’t just a standard TheDC invented. It is, in fact, a standard that Oren wrote about before he was ever under consideration for the job of Israeli ambassador. He outlined the new Bush standard of pro-Israel presidential friendship in an article he wrote during the 2008 campaign discussing whether John McCain or Barack Obama would be a better president for Israel to have in the White House.

“During his eight years in office, George W. Bush established new standards for the term ‘pro-Israel.’ He repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against terror, and praised its value as America’s primary Middle Eastern ally. He also expressed a deep ideological attachment to Israel as a democracy and, spiritually, to Israel as the biblical homeland,” Oren wrote at the time in the fall 2008 edition of the Journal of International Security Affairs. “Less publicly, the president also authorized an unprecedented level of cooperation between the U.S. military and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), including intelligence sharing, anti-terror training, and the joint development of missile defense systems.”