Predictably, many Arab countries and newspapers have interpreted the Freeman affair as an indicator that Obama is the continuation of Bush, with the same old assumptions about the Middle East, and the same people in charge. What chance Obama had of appearing as a truly fresh start in the Israel-Palestine question, and his historic chance to reframe the role of America in the region (you know: one of those reasons many of us actually supported him): these are still subject to the same old Israeli vetoes, according to the Arab press. And after the full-scale fooferaw over a minor intelligence appointment who didn't have the correct views on Israel, they have some new ammunition, don't they? The same message was conveyed in the Iranian press last week - and a key element of Khameini's message to the Turkish foreign minister, the day of the Freeman withdrawal, was that this notion of change with respect to the Muslim world is a chimera:

Pointing to the political stance adopted by the US on recent global events such as the war on Gaza, the Leader downplayed the pledge by US President Barack Obama to bring about "change" in White House policies. "The American administration is on the same path it was before and there is no sign that it is making any attempt to rectify its mistakes," Ayatollah Khamenei explained...

The Leader went on to praise Turkey's stance in the Gaza crisis, saying that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's reaction in the Davos Forum was admirable. Erdogan marched off the stage in front of Israeli President Shimon Peres and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, after saying that Israel committed "barbarian" acts in Gaza, and lashing out at the audience for applauding Peres's remarks made in defense of the war. He vowed he would never return to Davos.

Israel's Gaza assault, wittingly or not, allowed Jerusalem to define the US negatively in the Muslim world's eyes just before Obama took office. It undermined some of the American diplomatic leverage Obama was trying to maximize.

The assault on Freeman was another clear signal from passionate American supporters of Israel that any diplomacy with the Muslim world would be framed by continuing the stigmatization of anyone in Washington who does not share their views of the conflict, or who has serious ties and support for some Arab nations.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is demanding that the Obama administration deal with Iran on Jerusalem's time-table, not Washington's:

The Israelis have seized on the Iranian milestone to redouble pressure on the United States for a tougher stance against Iran, and to remind the new president that their patience has a limit. In fact, Israeli officials have quietly been delivering the message that the diplomacy Mr. Obama wants to start with Iran should begin promptly and be over quickly. “By late spring or early summer,” one senior Israeli intelligence official said the other day, echoing a message delivered in Israel to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Otherwise, they argue, the Iranians will drag talks on endlessly while speeding ahead on bomb work.

Watching Obama navigate these treacherous waters will be among the more fascinating aspects of this coming year. We'll find out soon enough if "change" is anything but a mirage - or if the Iranians, sensing their gaining strength in the region, will give Washington no choice but to deepen the conflict and become even more wedded to one, polarizing side.

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