Can Biden and Palin be believed?

Remember the hubbub back in April, after George Stephanopoulos asked Hillary Clinton what she would do if Iran attacked Israel and she said the Islamic Republic would be met with “massive retaliation“? Well the question – and henceforth the answer – struck me as utterly besides the point.

After all, does it really matter what the United States would do if God forbid such a thing took place, considering that Israel is believed to posses a second-strike capability? The real question is what the next president will do if the Israelis decide to launch a first strike against Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Well, if the veep candidates have any say, the answer is that the next administration will trust whatever decision the Israelis make. “We are friends with Israel,” Palin told ABC’s Charlie Gibson on Thursday. “I don’t think we should second-guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security.”

As for Joe Biden … “This is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do,” the Democratic vice presidential candidate said last week in a conference call with members of the Jewish media. “I have faith in the democracy of Israel. They will arrive at the right decision that they view as being in their own interests.”

Clinton’s answer may have been honest, but the question was irrelevant. In contrast, Biden and Palin tackled the fundamental question – yet their answers were thoroughly unbelievable. This isn’t 1967, 1981 or even 2007, when ultimately Israel bore the bulk of the risk, responsibility and consequences of a preemptive strike against a looming threat. By most accounts, it will be impossible for Israelis to attack Iran without U.S. knowledge and cooperation, considering America’s control over Iraqi air space and Israel’s need for the electronic Identification Friend or Foe codes that combat planes need to cross international airspace. And, if you believe the gloomiest of doomsday scenarios, Iran would not only retaliate with a rocket barrage against Israel, but would also move to cripple the world’s oil supply with pinpoint attacks and unleash a wave of terror against U.S. and European targets.

This is not to say that a President McCain or a President Obama would automatically order the Israelis to hold their fire (though, depending on whom you believe, the Bush administration is doing just that right now). It’s just to stress how suspect Biden’s and Palin’s answers are – how implausible it is that, given the need for U.S. cooperation and the wider ramifications of a strike against Iran, Obama or McCain would blindly follow the lead of the Israeli government.

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