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AIPAC confab starts with sparring over Obama

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Former Republican and Democratic officials sparred at the AIPAC policy conference over President Obama’s commitment to protecting Israel.

Liz Cheney, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs in the George W. Bush administration, and Jane Harman, a former congresswoman from California who for years was the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, were among the participants in a panel Sunday on the Middle East that opened the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington.

Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Harman kept circling back to the threat of Iran and sparred over whether Obama would stand by Israel as tensions with Iran intensified.

Cheney said "everyone in the room understands" that Obama has made statements "more focused on containing Israeli actions than they have been on containing Iran." Harman countered that "this administration has done more than any in history to help Israel protect itself," citing unprecedented levels of defense assistance and close cooperation on missile defense.

She noted an interview in The Atlantic last week with Obama in which the president said he "had Israel’s back" and emphasized that he was not bluffing about a possible military option with Iran.

Harman also delivered subtle digs at the administration that Cheney served, saying the wars it started in Iraq and Afghanistan left the region "unsettled" and had "cost dearly in treasure and lives." She noted the pro-Iranian tilt of the current Iraq, calling it "very troubling."

Cheney concluded her remarks, "There is no president who has done more to delegitimize and destabilize the State of Israel in recent history than President Obama."

Harman shot back that it was a "grave mistake" to "turn support of Israel into a political football."

Both women grew visibly more tense as the panel, which also featured Israeli journalists David Horovitz and Ehud Yaari, continued and as they both drew applause for their pointed remarks.

Obama was scheduled to speak later in the morning.

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