There’s a crisis brewing in US-Israel relations, and it’s about time.
For four years, President Obama has put up with the shenanigans of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Among Netanyahu’s offenses: openly defying Obama in 2009, when the president called for Israel to halt its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and overt supporting Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. But, in issuing a stream of political invective aimed at capsizing the emerging deal with Iran, Netanyahu is making a catastrophic miscalculation that could isolate Israel and weaken its support among the American public.
Fact is, Netanyahu can’t stop the coming deal with Iran. And despite his bluster, he can’t bomb Iran, either. Furthermore, Israel—which vastly depends on American good will, American aid and American arms—doesn’t have many friends outside the United States. Despite Netanyahu’s warm embrace of visiting French President FrançHollande this week, and despite Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Moscow to talk turkey with Vladimir Putin, really and truly Israel has nowhere else to go except Washington.
All the vaunted power of the Israel lobby, which Netanyahu has tried to mobilize against Obama this month, won’t save Israel if the United States abandons it. Not that the United States is abandoning Israel anytime soon, of course, but even a sharp look of disapproval from Washington can cause serious problems in Israel, and in Israeli politics. So Netanyahu had better be careful.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the pro-Israel think tank allied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), issued a dire warning about the developing rupture in US-Israeli relations this week. Wrote Rob Satloff, WINEP’s executive director, in Politico, in regard to the potential US-Iran entente:
Not since Menachem Begin trashed Ronald Reagan’s 1982 peace plan has Israel so publicly criticized a major U.S. diplomatic initiative. In a rousing speech in Jerusalem on Nov. 10, Netanyahu even called on leaders of American Jewry to use their influence to stop what he called a “bad” Iran deal.
Never has a U.S. secretary of state taken to a podium in an Arab capital, proclaimed his pro-Israel bona fides and then specifically cautioned the prime minister of Israel to butt out of ongoing U.S. diplomatic efforts and save his critique for after a deal is inked. That is what John Kerry did in a remarkable Nov. 11 news conference in Abu Dhabi, standing next to the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.
Netanyahu, in his hysterical speech at the United Nations in September, and his apoplectic responses to the diplomacy with Iran ever since, has brought this on himself. As The New York Times reports today:
Every time Mr. Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, ask for a little time and space to test the new Iranian leadership’s claims that it is ready for a new approach, and for compromise, Mr. Netanyahu responds that the proposed agreement is “a very bad deal,” “extremely dangerous,” “a mistake of historic proportions” or, as he said in an interview with CNN on Sunday, “an exceedingly bad deal.” And he has often raised the specter of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities even if a deal is signed, something the Obama administration believes would split apart the global coalition it has built to squeeze Iran.
With such absurdly exaggerated rhetoric, Netanyahu has created a crisis for himself. What happens when Iran and the P5+1 sign the deal, which could happen as early as this week? Where does Netanyahu go then? His bluster about striking Iran unilaterally is just that: bluster. Were Israel to attack Iran, either the United States would condemn it and allow Israel to suffer the world’s opprobrium all alone, or the United States would find itself (and Israel) utterly isolated as the rest of the world strikes its own deal with Iran, causing the economic sanctions to collapse.
Make no mistake: there’s more at stake here than just the talks with Iran. Israel’s entire relationship with the United States is on the line.
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