Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pelosi's Claims Of Powerlessness


By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Friday, April 24, 2009

Oversight: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's contention that she and other Democrats were not told about waterboarding terrorists is dubious enough. Her claim that they could do nothing anyway is blatantly false.

Read More: Global War On Terror

The highest-ranking member of the House of Representatives says that back during the first term of President George W. Bush, when the 9/11 terror attacks were still fresh in the minds of Americans, she and other key Democrats briefed by the CIA "were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used."

That contradicts the statements of others who where there, such as former House Intelligence Committee chairman and CIA director Porter Goss, plus intelligence officials interviewed on the subject going back to 2007.

But Speaker Pelosi, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in 2002, further claimed that there was nothing she and her fellow Democrats in Congress could have done about it. "They don't come in to consult," the speaker said last week. "They come in to notify . . . you can't change what they're doing."

Funny that Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat who succeeded Pelosi as ranking member of the intelligence panel, and so was included in CIA briefings, didn't feel that her hands were tied. She sent the CIA a classified letter in February 2003 objecting to the interrogations.

In fact, Congress' oversight powers regarding the CIA have for years gone beyond just sending private hate mail. L. Britt Snider, who served as Bill Clinton's inspector general of the CIA, staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and investigator on the Senate committee that probed Nixon-administration intelligence abuses, calls the CIA "perhaps the most scrutinized agency in the executive branch."

Snider's 2008 book, "The Agency & The Hill: CIA's Relationship With Congress, 1946-2004," notes that since 1986, under the law "no funds could be spent for any intelligence activity for which Congress had denied funding."

To illustrate how swiftly Congress can jump into action when it discovers something the CIA is doing that it doesn't like, consider what happened after the leaders of the two intelligence committees and other congressional leaders were briefed at the White House on the Iran arms-for-hostages initiative in mid-November 1986.

"By the end of the year," Snider says, "no fewer than seven investigations had been launched of what had become known as the Iran-Contra affair." Some 300,000 documents were perused, more than 500 witnesses interviewed and 40 days of congressional hearings conducted.

In 1989, congressional oversight was further enhanced by the establishment of the office of CIA inspector general, giving "the committees a place they could go within the Agency to ask for oversight inquiries that exceeded the committees' own capabilities," as Snider describes it.

The 1992 Intelligence Organization Act went further again, specifying the CIA director's responsibility to provide intelligence to Congress that is, as the law states, "timely, objective, independent of political considerations, and based upon all sources available to the intelligence community."

In 1993, after hearing testimony accusing the CIA of misconduct in Guatemala, both the Senate and House panels investigated, as did the CIA inspector general, who followed the committees' requests and went all the way back to 1984 in examining agency knowledge of human rights abuses by its clandestine sources in Guatemala.

Those investigations led to major changes, including the CIA's setting up "on its own initiative, a systematic notification process to protect against another failure to notify Congress of significant information concerning its operations," as Snider writes.

Former CIA director of congressional affairs John Moseman, in describing the new process, said of Congress: "They couldn't come back to us anymore when something went wrong and claim they'd never been told about it. If they had a problem with something, then it was up to them to let us know about it."

It was up to Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and the other Democrats briefed by the CIA to let be known their objections to enhanced interrogations. 

They didn't because back then 9/11 still stung. As Goss remembers of the briefings detailing waterboarding and other tough methods, "the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement." And as two officials present at such briefings told the Washington Post in 2007, at least two lawmakers in the room actually called on the CIA to push harder.

The speaker and her fellow top liberal Democrats were not powerless, as she now claims. But they were, and remain, gutless.

Prosecuting Heroes


By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, April 22, 2009 4:20 PM PT

National Security: The Justice Department may launch a witch hunt against those who organized the enhanced interrogation of terrorists. That's no way to treat people who saved so many lives.

Read More: Global War On Terror

The American public has just seen how policy based on campaign rhetoric can come crashing into the reality of a successful past policy.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, as a retired admiral who commanded the Navy in the Pacific and served on the White House's National Security Council, must be smarter than his recent statements make him out to be.

In a private memo to spy agency employees last week, made public by Blair this week, he conceded that "high value information" was obtained by the enhanced interrogation techniques the Bush administration authorized the CIA to use on terrorist detainees.

They gave "a deeper understanding of the al-Qaida network," according to President Obama's choice to oversee America's network of 16 intelligence agencies.

In a subsequent statement, however, Blair added that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

In the original memo, he remarks that "(I) like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given."

It looks like a troubling case of angst has taken hold of those charged with keeping our country safe.

But you simply cannot have it both ways. When Blair agonizes about hoping he "would not have approved those methods," does he not realize that not approving those methods would have meant hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans killed?

"Read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, (those interrogations) appear graphic and disturbing," Blair said. Yet those methods foiled terrorist plots, in particular Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's graphic and disturbing plan to fly a passenger jet into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, the West Coast's tallest skyscraper.

How can Blair really believe, as he claimed this week, that "the bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security"?

How can "image" trump the saving of lives in national security policy?

On Tuesday, the president called it "a decision for the attorney general" whether those in the Bush administration who provided legal backing for the enhanced interrogations would be prosecuted — this after claiming he wasn't interested in any such witch hunts.

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., has released a report claiming that CIA and Pentagon officials prepared groundwork for the enhanced techniques before receiving a legal OK — as if being prepared to help protect the nation constitutes a smoking gun.

Levin contends they "bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses."

Far from abuse, they were serving the nation more than the average senator. All those involved in this program are owed a debt of gratitude from all of us.

They certainly don't deserve to be hounded by the Justice Department or Congress.

Blair: 'High Value' Information Obtained in CIA Interrogations


Obama's national intelligence director says in a private memo that information obtained from harsh interrogations resulted in "a deeper understanding of the Al Qaeda network."

April 22, 2009
alt="National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair wrote a memo claiming valuable information was obtained using harsh interrogation techniques. (Reuters Photo)" />

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair wrote a memo claiming valuable information was obtained using harsh interrogation

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's top intelligence official privately told employees last week that "high value information" was obtained in interrogations that included harsh techniques approved by former President George W. Bush.

"A deeper understanding of the Al Qaeda network" resulted, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said in the memo, in which he added, "I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past." The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo.

Critics of the harsh methods -- waterboarding, face slapping, sleep deprivation and other techniques -- have called them torture. President Obama said Tuesday they showed the United States "losing our moral bearings" and said they would not be used while he is in office. But he did not say whether he believed they worked.

Obama ordered the release of long-secret Bush-era documents on the subject last week, and Blair circulated his memo declaring that useful information was obtained at the same time.

In a public statement released the same day, Blair did not say that interrogations using the techniques had yielded useful information.

As word of the private memo surfaced Tuesday night, a new statement was issued in his name that appeared to be more explicit in one regard and contained something of a hedge on another point.

It said, "The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

The emergence of Blair's memo added another layer of complexity to an issue that has plagued the Obama administration in recent days.

The president drew criticism from Republicans last week for releasing the Justice Department memos that outlined the legal basis for waterboarding and other techniques. At the same time, some Democrats and liberal groups have expressed disappointment that he signaled his opposition to possible legal action against senior officials who had approved their use in the first place.

On Tuesday, the president told a reporter it would be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to make such a decision.

Blair, in his memo to employees in the intelligence community, wrote: "Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future.

"I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given."


RAW DATA: Blair Memo to Employees on Interrogations

April 22, 2009

The following is a copy of the memo National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair sent to employees on interrogation techniques.

Dear Colleagues:

Today is a difficult one for those of us who serve the country in its intelligence services.

An article on the front page of The New York Times claims that the National Security Agency has been collecting information that violates the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens.

The release of documents from the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) spells out in detail harsh interrogation techniques used by CIA officers on suspected al Qaida terrorists.

As the leader of the Intelligence Community, I am trying to put these issues into perspective. We cannot undo the events of the past; we must understand them and turn this understanding to advantage as we move into the future.

It is important to remember the context of these past events. All of us remember the horror of 9/11. For months afterwards we did not have a clear understanding of the enemy we were dealing with, and our every effort was focused on preventing further attacks that would kill more Americans. It was during these months that the CIA was struggling to obtain critical information from captured al Qaida leaders, and requested permission to use harsher interrogation methods.

The OLC memos make clear that senior legal officials judged the harsher methods to be legal, and that senior policymakers authorized their use. High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaida organization that was attacking this country. As the OLC memos demonstrate, from 2002 through 2006 when the use of these techniques ended, the leadership of the CIA repeatedly reported their activities both to Executive Branch policymakers and to members of Congress, and received permission to continue to use the techniques.

Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing.

As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.

Even in 2009 there are organizations plotting to kill Americans using terror tactics, and although the memories of 9/11 are becoming more distant, we in the intelligence services must stop them.

One of our most effective tools in discovering groups planning to attack us are their communications, and it is the job of the NSA to intercept them. The NSA does this vital work under legislation that was passed by the Congress. The NSA actions are subject to oversight by my office and by the Justice Department under court-approved safeguards; when the intercepts are conducted against Americans, it is with individual court orders. Under these authorities the officers of the National Security Agency collect large amounts of international telecommunications, and under strict rules review and analyze some of them. These intercepts have played a vital role in many successes we have had in thwarting terrorist attacks since 9/11.

On occasion, NSA has made mistakes and intercepted the wrong communications. The number of these mistakes are very small in terms of our overall collection efforts, but each one is investigated, Congress and the courts are notified, corrective measures are taken, and improvements are put in place to prevent reoccurrences.

As a young Navy officer during the Vietnam years, I experienced public scorn for those of us who served in the Armed Forces during an unpopular war . Challenging and debating the wisdom and policies linked to wars and warfighting is important and legitimate; however, disrespect for those who serve honorably within legal guidelines is not. I remember well the pain
of those of us who served our country even when the policies we were carrying out were unpopular or could be second-guessed.

We in the Intelligence Community should not be subjected to similar pain . Let the debate focus on the law and our national security . Let us be thankful that we have public servants who seek to do the difficult work of protecting our country under the explicit assurance that their actions are both necessary and legal.

There will almost certainly be more media articles about the actions of intelligence agencies in the past, and as we do our vital work of protecting the country we will make mistakes that will also be reported. What we must do is make it absolutely clear to the American people that our ethos is to act legally, in as transparent a manner as we can, and in a way that they would be proud of if we could tell them the full story .

It is my job, and the job of our national leaders, to ensure that the work done by the Intelligence Community is appreciated and supported . You can be assured the President knows this and is supporting us. It is your responsibility to continue the difficult, often dangerous and vital work you are doing every day.


Dennis C . Blair

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Enhanced Protection


By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Monday, April 20, 2009 4:20 PM PT

National Security: The establishment media are obsessed with the newly revealed details of our enhanced terrorist interrogation techniques. Their most important detail is the many American lives they saved.

Read More: Global War On Terror

There's nothing like a big number in a top-of-the-fold headline to sell newspapers — and seal misconceptions. The supposedly big news of the weekend regarding disclosure of declassified memos specifying the methods used by the CIA to question captured terrorists was that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah were waterboarded a combined 266 times.

That number certainly is big if you think about what most media and leading Democrats have been telling us about use of the water board. They claim it constitutes torture, that no one can resist such a pseudo-medieval practice for more than a few seconds — yet at the same time it doesn't really work.

But the number itself refutes those accusations. If KSM was forced to undergo such a drowning sensation 183 times in the course of one month about a year after the 2001 attacks, and Zubaydah 83 times in the course of a month the summer before KSM's sessions, it suggests the interrogators were getting places.

The released paper makes that clear. The May 30, 2005, memo from the Justice Department to the CIA, for instance, noted that "no technique is used on a detainee unless use of that technique at that time appears necessary to obtaining the intelligence."

Khalid and Zubaydah were two of only three detainees on whom waterboarding, "the most traumatic of the enhanced interrogation techniques," was used. Yet the number of sessions employed makes it clear that as harsh as the method is, it clearly can be resisted, especially if a terrorist has been conditioned to do so. Otherwise, so many repeated sessions would be unnecessary.

As the guidelines of the CIA's Office of Medical Services stated, "The general goal of these techniques is a psychological impact, and not some physical effect." The OMS described the "specific goal" as being to "dislocate" the terrorist's "expectations regarding the treatment he believes he will receive."

Unfortunately, by making the details public and thus available for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups to study, that "dislocation of expectations" becomes impossible for future terrorist detainees.

This is an incalculable blow to U.S. national security.

As former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey pointed out last week, half of the U.S. government's knowledge of al-Qaida's structure and activities is the fruit of enhanced interrogation.

That information let the U.S. and other governments foil numerous 9/11-style operations, saving hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives.

We understand that people have legitimate concerns about the U.S. being involved in torture. But enhanced interrogation — a reasonable (but now rescinded) response to the deadliest of threats to our homeland — should be seen for what it is: a tough, but effective, way to save lives.

And those devoted U.S. government personnel who took part, who saved so many, deserve medals.

A Foundation For The Future Built On Sand


By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER | Posted Monday, April 20, 2009 4:20 AM PT

Franklin Roosevelt gave us the New Deal. John Kennedy gave us the New Frontier. In a major domestic policy address at Georgetown University last week, Barack Obama promised—eight times—a "New Foundation."

For those too thick to have noticed this proclamation of a new era in American history, the White House Web site helpfully titled its speech excerpts "A New Foundation."

As it happens, Obama is not the first to try this slogan. President Carter peppered his 1979 State of the Union address with five "New Foundations" (and eight more just naked "foundations"). Like most of Carter's endeavors, this one failed, perhaps because (as I recall it being said at the time) it sounded like the introduction of a new kind of undergarment.

Undaunted, Obama offered his New Foundation speech as the complete, contextual, canonical text for the domestic revolution he aims to enact. It had everything we have come to expect from Obama:

The Whopper: The boast that he had "identified $2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade." It takes audacity to repeat this after it had been so widely exposed as transparently phony.

Most of this $2 trillion is conjured up by refraining from spending $180 billion a year for 10 more years of surges in Iraq. Hell, why not make the "deficit reductions" $10 trillion — the extra $8 trillion coming from refraining from repeating the $787 billion stimulus package annually through 2019.

The Puzzler: He further boasted of his frugality by saying that his budget would reduce domestic discretionary spending as a share of GDP to the lowest level ever recorded. Amazing.

Squeezing discretionary domestic spending at a time of hugely expanding budgets is merely the baleful residue of out-of-control entitlements and debt service, which will increase astronomically under Obama. To claim these as achievements in fiscal responsibility is testament not to Obama's frugality but to his brazenness.

The Non Sequitur: "To make sure such a crisis (as we have today) never happens again," Obama proposes his radical health care, energy and education reforms, the central pillars of his social democratic agenda. But Obama's own words contradict this assertion.

Notes the Washington Post: "But as his admirable summation of recent history made clear, these pursuits have little to do with the economic crisis, and they are not the key to economic recovery." Obama rarely fails to repeat this false connection. A crisis — and the public's resulting pliability to liberal social engineering — is a terrible thing to waste.

The Swindle: The Obama administration is spending money like none other in peacetime history. Obama is smart. He knows this is fiscally unsustainable. He has let it be known privately and publicly that he intends to cure the imbalance with entitlement reform.

An excellent strategy. If it takes throwing nearly $1 trillion of "porky" (to quote Sen. Charles Schumer) stimulus spending to soften up a Democratic Congress and make it amenable to real entitlement reform, then fine.

Reforming Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would save tens of trillions of dollars, and make the current money-from-helicopters spending almost trivial by comparison.

In the New Foundation speech, Obama correctly (again) identifies the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid as the key fiscal problem. But then he claims that Medicaid and Medicare reform is the same as his health care reform, fatuously citing as his authority a one-day meeting of handpicked interested parties at his "Fiscal Responsibility Summit."

Here's the problem. The heart of Obama's health care reform is universality. Covering more people costs more money. That is why Obama's budget sets aside an extra $634 billion in health care spending, a down payment on an estimated additional spending of $1 trillion.

How does the administration curtail the Medicare and Medicaid entitlement by adding yet another (now universal) health care entitlement that its own estimate acknowledges increases costs by about $1 trillion?

Which is why in his March 24 news conference, Obama could not explain how — when the near-term stimulative spending is over and his ambitious domestic priorities kick in, promising sustained prosperity and deficit reduction — the deficits at the end of the coming decade are rising, not falling.

The Congressional Budget Office has deficits increasing in the last seven years of the decade from an already unsustainable $672 billion annually to $1.2 trillion by 2019.

This is the sand on which the new foundation is constructed. Obama has the magic to make words mean almost anything. Numbers are more resistant to his charms.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tea Party System


By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, April 16, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Politics: The hundreds of tea parties thrown Wednesday were part of one of the most extraordinary grass-roots uprisings in our history. And they spell a golden opportunity for freedom-loving politicians.

Read More: Budget & Tax Policy

Less than three months after a landmark election, throngs of demonstrators everywhere gathered to object to the revolution that our new president is steamrolling into law. It was a landmark protest in the history of the republic.

But how can the voices of tens if not hundreds of thousands of angry taxpayers be turned into concrete political action?

Investor's Business Daily attended one of these historic events, the Fishkill Tea Party in upstate New York, just east of the Hudson River. The original Fishkill Tea Party took place Aug. 26, 1776, when 100 women forced a storekeeper named Abram Brinckerhoff to sell them tea at the lawful price of 6 shillings per pound. This year's Fishkill Tea Party nearly filled Dutchess Stadium, the county's minor-league ballpark.

In a region of liberal New York state where Democrats have been consolidating their power during the last two elections, thousands traveled long distances to support pretty much the classic Reagan political agenda — and not just on taxes and spending.

Banners and placards sported slogans that included "Don't Spread My Wealth. Spread My Work Ethic," "Who'll Bail Me Out?" "Atlas Will Shrug," "Tea Today. No Kool-Aid," and "Acorn Didn't Have To Bus Us Here," referring to the left-wing activist group that specializes in voter registration drives benefiting liberal Democrats.

The crowds responded with thunderous applause to the various local activists' rallying cries, ranging from "How about those Navy Seals!" referring to the recent rescue of Americans from Somali pirates, to attacks on Hollywood for its role in moving America away from traditional Judeo-Christian values.

The audience roared when resentment was expressed toward illegal aliens who eat away the social welfare resources funded by taxpayers. When unemployed information technology manager Troy Johnson took the podium, he elicited an ovation with the quip:

"Just to prove how radical I am, I believe we should all be speaking English!"

The throng cheered calls for term limits to curb the power of elitist career politicians; applauded taunts that the establishment media would proceed to underestimate and misreport the size of the turnout; shouted in approval for blocking the president's planned federal intrusion into health care; and rose from its seats for a speaker who called Washington's march toward socialism "a slap in the face to those who have served in the military."

It was quite clear, however, that the tea partiers feel betrayed by Republicans, not just the Democrats now in power in both the executive and legislative branches in Washington.

One youthful speaker described the cause of the financial crisis as an "assault on our free market system paired with corporate bailouts." The Bush White House late last year lobbied skeptical congressional Republicans hard on a $14 billion auto industry bailout.

Johnson pointed out that "we know that they know that nobody can read 1,000 pages overnight," referring to the rush to get a stimulus bill passed and to the lawmakers who signed it without knowing much of what was in it.

The crowd may not have been aware that apart from liberal Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter, the GOP in Congress formed a united front against the Democrats' tax-and-spend behemoth. But the Republican brand is blemished.

During 12 years of dominance in Congress and eight years in the White House, the GOP failed to kick its addiction to pork and make tough decisions on controlling entitlement spending. It found it too politically risky to secure the U.S. borders — even in the post-9/11 years when homeland security trumped all other concerns.

It's almost as if Republicans were daring the kind of people who attended this week's events to go the dead-end route of starting their own third political party.

The tea party movement proves that even in the left-leaning Northeast, a huge natural constituency exists for these bread-and-butter American issues — lower taxes, less government, a strong military that's allowed to win, tough measures to end illegal immigration, term limits and family values.

It's all there, waiting to be tapped into — if only a few smart politicians would grasp the opportunity.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obama's stance worries Israelis By Jason Koutsoukis


April 18, 2009

CAN Israel still call the United States its best international friend? Apparently not, if you believe the tone of the local media.

Watching the drama unfold inside Israel, the increasingly tense dialogue between US President Barack Obama and new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking on all the trappings of a duel.

Almost every day brings news of another sore point between the two countries, a source of yet further inflammation of their once warm relations.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the more immediate threat to Israel's national security lay across the Atlantic rather than from closer to home.

It is bad enough that President Obama uses almost every opportunity he can to set the parameters of a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Now US officials are openly using Israeli anxiety over Iran's fledging nuclear program as a bargaining chip to force Israel's hand on giving up control of the West Bank Palestinian territory.

No less a figure than White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel — whose father fought with the militant Zionist group the Irgun, and whose appointment had provided such reassurance to Israeli officials — was quoted this week laying down the law to Israel.

If Israel wants US help to defuse the Iranian threat, Mr Emanuel was reported to have told Jewish leaders in Washington, then get ready to start evacuating settlements in the West Bank.

Talkback radio blazed with fury across the country the same day, as Israelis protested that no US official had the right to tell them where to live.

Then on Thursday came the news that Mr Netanyahu's planned first meeting with President Obama in Washington next month had been called off.

Mr Netanyahu had hoped to capitalise on his attendance at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington to visit the White House.

But Administration officials informed Mr Netanyahu's office that the President would not be "in town".

Washington sources added that the Obama Administration would not be continuing the tradition that had developed during the Bush years of hosting Israeli prime ministers whenever they showed up in town, sometimes with just a phone call's notice.

It might have been no more than coincidence, but yesterday Israeli defence officials told the liberal daily Haaretz that Israel's $US15 billion ($A21 billion) purchase of 75 US-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets was now under review due to "the unexpected high cost and disagreements with the manufacturer".

Contrary to initial expectations, President Obama has wasted no time becoming fully engaged in the Middle East peace process, despite the magnitude of his domestic political agenda. While Mr Netanyahu has refused to endorse a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict agreed to by his predecessor, President Obama has made it abundantly clear that the US will accept nothing less than Israel living side by side with a sovereign Palestinian state.

Mr Obama is also demanding a freeze on Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, and has dropped the Bush administration's opposition to Hamas being part of a future Palestinian Authority government.

According to prominent Israeli political commentator Maya Bengal, who writes for the country's second-largest selling newspaper Maariv, the holiday is over.

"As Passover comes to an end, so comes to an end, it seems, the days of grace granted to the Netanyahu Government by the American Administration," says the commentator.

Tel Aviv barman Meir Avraham, 30, says he can feel on the street the tensions being played out between the US and Israel.

"This is one of the the main things that the people are talking about at the moment," says Mr Avraham, who recently returned to Israel after several months in Townsville.

All Israelis, says Mr Avraham, understand the vital nature of the relationship between Israel and the US. "If we lose America, then we are alone," he says. "So we must listen to what America wants. But really I think this is more about the little brother testing the limits of the big brother."