In US-Israel Tensions, Everything Is Personal
By: Chelo Rosenberg Translated from Maariv (Israel).
Just as in the days of the Clinton administration, the crisis in the United States-Israel relations is not between the countries, but between their leaders. Both sides have identical interests, but the human ego follows its own laws.
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Just as it was during the Clinton administration, tensions between the US and Israel are not between nations, but between leaders, writes Chelo Rosenberg, noting that military assistance under Obama’s government remains unmatched.Publisher: Maariv (Israel)
Everything is personal
Author: Chelo Rosenberg
Posted on: September 13 2012
Translated by: Sandy Bloom
Categories : Israel Security
The hell that has broken loose in Israel-US relations may mislead us. While the crisis is, ostensibly, between the two countries, an in-depth analysis of the essence of the relationship leads us to a completely different conclusion: The crisis is between [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.
Paradoxically, the relations between the two countries are quite good, even excellent. On the other hand, the relations between the two leaders are quite bad. While we cannot completely separate the personal dimensions from the diplomatic ones, if we do not attempt to make such a distinction at all, then we can come to misleading conclusions that adversely affect Israel’s security. Anyone who feels that personal “friendship” between leaders is not important in diplomacy and that the objective is [only] to achieve the vital interests of all the countries involved, is simply short-sighted.
Seeing that the two leaders are not standing trial to determine who is at “fault” for the troubled relations, we will not pretend to be the judges in charge of dispensing the “verdict.” [Instead,] we will try to describe the reality that we all face. Netanyahu’s relations with both American administrations he has dealt with in his two terms of office, have been very touchy and complex. The heart of the crisis is the startling distrust between Netanyahu and Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Professor Avraham Ben-Zvi, an expert on the subject of the United States who researched and published an excellent book on the relations between the two countries ["The United States and Israel: 1948-2008"], argues that Israel-US relations during the Clinton administration were characterized by mistrust and skepticism of the American administration towards the prime minister. These feelings increased to the point that Netanyahu’s reliability and credibility were cast in great doubt, especially with regards to promoting the peace process.
[Not] surprisingly, Netanyahu was suspected — then and now — of creating political alliances with the political rivals of the Democratic administration. Both the Clinton and Obama administrations viewed Netanyahu’s activities as meddling in the United States internal elections. The resultant anger toward him was, and still is, a major component of the president’s attitude toward him. During the Clinton period all kinds of “punishments” were used against Netanyahu, the height of which was the refusal of the president to meet with Netanyahu. Although the relations improved over time, the misgivings remained in place. Yet all this did not cloud the very productive strategic collaborations between the two countries, and Israel, despite it all, did not suffer any economic or military-related damage.
The Obama administration has undergone similar experiences. There is a tendency in Israel to view Obama as a bitter enemy who attempts to harm Israel’s vital security and strategic interests. This is a simplistic viewpoint that does not stand up to the test of time. The positions of the prime minister are completely legitimate, even if they do not garner widespread support in Israel or the United States. Even US Ambassador [to Israel] Dan Shapiro repeated in a Channel Two [Israeli TV] interview that Israel is free to make its own decisions. It is not groundless to guess that the fury of the Obama administration is not the result of opposing viewpoints, but of [Netanyahu’s] public statements that embarrass the American president in election season.
The perceptions of the president’s entourage lead us to the conclusion that in Obama’s eyes, Netanyahu is again making efforts to meddle in his campaign. Evidently, the Obama administration went crazy when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited Israel [July 29] and made irresponsible statements that were probably coordinated with his friend Netanyahu. This is certainly no way to “warm up” relations [with the Americans] and [create favorable conditions for] coordinating the Iranian issue with them.
It was legitimate [of Netanyahu] to demand that Obama set red lines for a military attack on Iran. It would be a great surprise if Obama would accede to this demand in public. Such things must be done behind closed doors. Even in Israel it is acknowledged that American military assistance in the Obama era has been unparalleled. A hostile administration would not do this. Chemistry between the leaders is very important, especially in light of the dangers we face. However, one must not cling to an inflated ego. The interests are the same. The two leaders would do well to meet away from the noise and close a deal; only good can come of this.
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