US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy has just suffered two dramatic failures.
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After two decades in which the US and Israel were largely in sync on both the nature of the Iranian threat and the means of dealing with it, our positions – on the foremost strategic issue facing Israel – are now diametrically opposed. Netanyahu deserves credit for having helped force the international community to get serious about the issue, but once that happened he failed to understand that events had passed him by and that he was no longer a significant player. His unremitting opposition to the agreement has turned him from a champion of Israel’s interests into an international annoyance.
Netanyahu’s policy has also led to an unprecedented rift with the US.
Many in Israel believe that this is a transient problem; US President Barack Obama is nearing the end of his presidency anyway and whatever feathers have been ruffled will blow over. US-Israeli relations will not come to an end and Congress will continue to vote for foreign assistance to Israel. Overall support for Israel in the US remains high.
Both right and tragically wrong.
There is an old saying about spitting into the well you drink from. Also, some street-wise wisdom about messing with the big kid on the block, who still has 18 months to go.
Israel has now received over $120 billion in American assistance, an almost unimaginable sum. This figure alone should give pause to those who are so avid to take on the administration.
No, there is no immediate danger to American aid, indeed, the US and Israel reportedly began talks recently on a new 10-year package once the current one expires in 2017.
Moreover, Obama, that craven Chamberlain, has even tried to offer us a military compensation package.
The premier, in an admirable display of national spine, turned him down.
Unlike some, we cannot be bought off and have informed the Americans that we are not even willing to discuss the package – well, at least until after (we lose) the vote in Congress, at which time our national spine may gain greater flexibility. Some might call this chutzpah on steroids.
The IDF without the US hardly has a bullet to fire, and certainly not a plane to fly. Without the US we will be able to cut military service from the new, shortened period of 32 months, to zero. And there won’t be a need anyway. Without American diplomatic cover we can also largely shut the economy; we will be a sanctioned country, an international pariah, our once growing economy a remnant of its past glory.
The spectacle of the leader of major American ally – or should we say more honestly, a virtual American protectorate – challenging the US president in Congress is unprecedented.
More importantly, there is virtually no chance Netanyahu can defeat Obama in Congress. It comes down to 13 Democratic Senators. Who, in the final analysis, is likely to have greater sway over them, the Israeli premier, or the president of the USA? I remember well the dramatic vote on the sale of AWACS to the Saudis in 1981, the last time we directly took on a president (and lost). One of the modern senatorial greats was ardently against the deal until the last, at which time he was convinced by the president’s eloquent strategic arguments.
A surprising budgetary appropriation for a long-sought bridge in his state shortly thereafter surely had nothing to do with it. Obama, of course, would never even consider such crass, Knesset-like actions.
Even if the remarkable happens and Obama is defeated, we will lose.
Republicans will be temporarily delighted, Democrats livid. On further reflection, the same Republicans will understand that their adversaries’ humiliation today can be turned against them in the future. The brilliance of the US-Israeli relationship has always been its bipartisan nature.
He who makes Israel a partisan issue weakens our national security.
Through its vital role in promoting US support for Israel, AIPAC is a crucial element in Israel’s national security. It is a magnificent organization.
As the pro-Israel lobby, it has no alternative but to support the premier and lead the battle in Congress.
This is akin to a ship repeatedly trying to ram its way through rocks. Part of AIPAC’s power has been its aura of invincibility. He who misuses AIPAC weakens our national security.
There is a tectonic change underway in the US that is disguised by strong current polls. An entire generation of Americans have come of age that know little of the Holocaust, Israel’s rebirth and early struggle. For many of them, Israel is a powerful, often brutal oppressor and occupier.
They are now increasingly in positions of influence in American life.
The polls bear out this strong generational difference. We have also lost much of our support among the liberal Democratic community. American society as a whole is changing rapidly as the proportion of Latinos and nonwhites grows, soon to be a majority – communities that have few ties to Israel. He who fails to understand the importance of the trends underway weakens our national security.The author, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, a lecturer at IDC Herzliya and the author of Zion’s Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy.