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Axelrod: Obama Understands Israel's Urge To Respond


First Posted: 12-28-08 11:52 AM   |   Updated: 01-28-09 05:12 AM

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One of Barack Obama's chief spokesmen repeated on Sunday that it would be counterproductive for the president-elect to weigh too deeply into the crisis between Israel and Hamas while another commander-in-chief occupied the Oval Office.

But David Axelrod, appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, did reaffirm Obama's commitment to the "special relationship between the United States and Israel" in a way that suggested general sympathy for the Jewish state's actions.

Speaking a day after Israeli airstrikes, targeting and destroying Hamas facilities in Gaza, killed more than 275, Axelrod said the president-elect, from on-the-ground experience, understood the urge for retaliatory action.

Last July, Obama visited Sderot, a southern Israel town on the border of the Gaza Strip that has taken the brunt of Hamas attacks, Axelrod reminded host Chip Reid. "He said then that when bombs are raining down on your citizens, there is an urge to respond and act to try to put an end to that. That's what he said then. I think that's what he believes."

That was the extent of geopolitical analysis that Axelrod would offer. The incoming White House strategist did offer a reaffirmation of Obama's willingness to work closely with Israel upon taking office. And, in the process of doing so, he again framed the current crisis as one that Hamas provoked.

"[Obama] wants to be constructive force in helping to bring about the peace and security that both Israelis and Palestinians want and deserve," said Axelrod. "And obviously this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks as Hamas began its shelling [and] Israel responded."

The Obama team has diligently watched and worked from the sidelines as the latest deadly Israeli-Hamas crisis flared. The president-elect has closely monitored events and been in discussion with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her successor-designate, Sen. Hillary Clinton. But as Axelrod told CBS and repeated on NBC's Meet the Press, there is only one president at a time and Obama would honor President Bush's decisions.

There is a large element of curiosity over how Obama will handle the latest Israeli-Arab violence once he takes office. The president-elect has postured himself as a more nuanced practitioner than George W. Bush when it comes to brokering peace between Israel and Palestinians.

But the ascension of Hamas to political power has complicated not just regional politics but Obama's approach to the matter. During the course of the election, his view on the organization seemed to harden. And when it was reported that his former church had reprinted a pro-Hamas op-ed in its bulletin, Obama offered deliberately strong lines of disapproval.

Hamas is a "terrorist organization," he opined, "responsible for the deaths of many innocents, and dedicated to Israel's destruction, as evidenced by their bombarding of Sderot in recent months. I support requiring Hamas to meet the international community's conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements before they are treated as a legitimate actor."