US official: 'When Netanyahu calls Obama will answer. But how fast will he respond to crisis?'

Officials say US-Israel alliance will remain strong despite tensions surrounding Netanyahu speech.

March 1, 2015 10:35
1 minute read.
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set to arrive in Washington Sunday on one of the most contentious visits there by an Israeli prime minister in recent memory, tensions between President Barack Obama and the Israeli leader remain at a high, continuing to threaten the broader US-Israeli alliance.

US and Israeli officials insist that key areas of cooperation from counter-terrorism to intelligence to cyber security have been unaffected and will remain so. But when it comes to Netanyahu's impending speech at Congress, official's stances remain conflicted.

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US officials are fuming over what they see as an affront by Netanyahu over Obama's Iran diplomacy ahead of an end-of-March deadline for a framework nuclear agreement.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials and hard-line US supporters are defending Netanyahu's right to take center-stage in Washington on Tuesday to sound the alarm over the possible deal.

One former US official put it: "Sure, when Netanyahu calls the White House, Obama will answer. But how fast will he be about responding (to a crisis)?"

Israelis have long fretted over the possibility that Washington might not be as diligent about shielding Israel at the United Nations and other international organizations.

One Israeli official acknowledged the prospect is now more worrisome when the Palestinians are resorting increasingly to global forums like the International Criminal Court to press grievances against Israel and Europeans are losing patience with Israel over settlement building on occupied land.

On both sides, current and former officials, US lawmakers, independent experts and Washington lobbyists, have expressed concern about a broader fallout on ties.

But at the same time, many of them point to the two countries' history of being able to "compartmentalize" diplomatic disputes to preserve cooperation on other shared priorities.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was shared interest in keeping the US-Israel alliance strong.

No one believes the Obama administration would abandon Israel should a new military conflict erupt with Hamas in the Gaza Strip or with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"Let's not forget the US needs every friend it has in the Middle East," said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for Democratic and Republican administrations.

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