Jeopardizing US-Israel relations

The risk that Netanyahu poses to the special relationship with the US is anything but coincidental. It reflects his deeply hardheaded politics.

Israel US flags (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel US flags
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ever since president Eisenhower’s “Cold Shoulder” policy toward Israel in the 1950s, the subsequent warm-up in US-Israel relations during the Kennedy administration has been a consistent trend. The relationship has been intimately close, reflecting both common interests and common values. For decades it has been clear that cooperation between the two countries must transcend partisan considerations and political differences.
Regrettably, this common wisdom is being consistently contested by Israel’s right wing, and the nature of this unique relationship is put at risk by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A regrettable example of this dangerous process is the military aid package agreement that is currently being negotiated.
Not only is the scope of the agreement smaller than Jerusalem had hoped for, but it also carries a problematic restriction on spending aid money exclusively on American projects. This article of the agreement is going to deal a deadly blow to Israeli security industries and unique research and development programs.
This article means thousands of workers will be sent home. Even more alarmingly, it risks Israel’s qualitative advantage over its adversaries in the region, which was promised by president Bush to prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2007 when the last agreement was signed. This article is Netanyahu’s personal failure.
The military aid package, given since 1987, is the clearest demonstration of US commitment to Israel’s security. In terms of total money received, Israel is the largest recipient of American military assistance, which constitutes a fifth of Israel’s defense budget.
In 2007, the US increased its military aid to Israel by over 25 percent, to an average of $3 billion per year for the following decade. The development of Israel’s Merkava battle tank, the Arrow missile system and countless other defense projects would not have been possible without it.
The coming agreement for the next decade that is now being negotiated showcases American generosity, responsibility and sensitivity to Israel’s security needs. However had it not been for Netanyahu’s hubris and petty political conduct, the agreement could have been larger and its terms better.
Netanyahu has made every possible mistake in managing the relationship with Israel’s closest ally, and specifically with President Barack Obama. It seems Netanyahu never came to terms with the fact that a Democratic president is occupying the Oval Office.
Obama’s first administration was replete with controversies and clashes with Netanyahu. In 2012 it appeared that Netanyahu was meddling in US presidential elections and favored Mitt Romney’s candidacy.
In March 2015 the relationship reached a low point when Netanyahu appeared before the US Congress and gave a speech against the wishes of the White House, criticizing the administration’s Iran policy. This was another slap in the face to Obama, who offered an unprecedented aid package for Israel during negotiations with Iran.
As if that was not bad enough, Netanyahu suggested he would rather hold off and sign with the next administration, trying again to exert pressure on Obama during an election year.
Adding a final dash of oil to the fire, Netanyahu’s new defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, slammed the US during the final stages of negotiating the aid package by equating the nuclear deal with Iran to the Munich Agreement of 1938.
Netanyahu alienating the US is not simply a matter of diplomatic clumsiness, but a policy matter. Shortly before his reelection, Netanyahu renounced his commitment to the two-state solution, which marked the common ground between successive US and Israeli governments. Following the breakdown of peace talks in 2014, Netanyahu formed a coalition with his “natural partners” – exclusively far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties – giving the US State Department no hope for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership.
The risk that Netanyahu poses to the special relationship with the US is anything but coincidental. It reflects his deeply hardheaded politics. This time it will be thousands of workers and the defense industry that will pay the price.
The author is a member of Knesset of the Zionist Union and chairs the Sub-Committee for Homeland Defense in the Defense and External Relations Committee. He is also Labor Party’s former chairman, former defense minister and deputy prime minister.