As Friends Meet in a White House

It’s good to have friends in high places.

However, sometimes, as events evolve, you realize that the friendship isn’t as ideal as you expected it to be.

On Wednesday, February 15th, one day after the US celebrates the Hallmark holiday of love, Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting President Donald Trump in the White House.

Much has been made about the great relationship and reception Israel is expected to receive from this administration.  Trump has, after all, said that he intends to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, has appointed a very strong supporter of Israel as the new American Ambassador, and he has a Jewish daughter, after all.

What could be better?

It’s true that there were tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration. Both governments can spin it anyway they want, but the lack of affection, let alone respect, between the two leaders was evident to all. Their visions for the future in the Middle East and for Israel often conflicted.

This lack of closeness, however, also gave Israel’s government an advantage. Israel was free to do things that it thought necessary without having to consider its effect on American policy. The Obama administration could hardly be blamed as encouraging, let alone complicit, in Israeli actions as American disagreements to them were well known. Furthermore, the US enjoyed being able to state plausible deniability in case Israel felt compelled to protect itself militarily from any threat it deemed crucial. This gave Israel free hands and America security from repercussions.

Under Trump, things will be different.

As we have seen time and time again, Trump values loyalty, and wants to control every detail of every move his entourage takes.

Life is Trump’s reality show and he is the executive producer. He dictates the scenarios and he tells the contestants how to respond.

Netanyahu now is merely a member of Trump’s entourage. As such, every move Israel makes will need to be presented to the US president before any action is taken, and will have to get his seal of approval.

While a strong relationship with the US president has the potential to “Make Israel Great Again”, it also has the potential for Israel to hesitate, or even to fail to act, when it is in its best interest.

What will happen should the Mossad recommend an operation in Iran? Will the US president need to be called in advance? What will happen should Israel take action without first seeking approval? Will Israel then experience the wrath of Trump? Will there be an angry 4 am tweet?

It is naïve to believe that Netanyahu will not give Trump the advance notice he is looking for. As Netanyahu has already demonstrated, he very much cares about Israel’s image and getting the world’s approval.

Netanyahu, like Trump, must always be right.

That is why Netanyahu kept the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Communications Portfolio under his leadership for so long.  That is why, during Operation Defensive Shield, Netanyahu agreed to all the world’s ceasefire proposals – so he could show the world that Israel was looking for peace and it is the Palestinians that are the true obstacle to it.

And at the end, Israeli lives were lost during these accepted ceasefires because Israel adhered to orders to stop fighting while Hamas took advantage of the opportunity.

So, it is not so a hard to believe that when President Trump, a friend of Israel, requests prior knowledge of Israeli action, that Netanyahu will not respect the request.

But, when foreign countries start dictating to Israel what it can and can’t do (any foreign country or entity for that matter), Israel’s security suffers. No one can tell Israel what is in her best interest. Not a friend. Not a foe.

And when friends, with vastly different objectives and perspectives, and different strengths, try and impose their positions on one another, there is no quicker way to end a friendship.

And, as anyone who has ever had a falling out with a friend knows, there is no more dangerous a foe, than a former friend.

So, as Netanyahu and Trump meet, we can expect expressions of agreement, optimism and consanguinity, but we should also be ready for the consequences.

About the Author
Keren Gelfand served as Director for Media Affairs at the Israeli consulates in Chicago and New York. Following seven years in that position, she co-founded LANUA, a global strategic brand consultancy group focusing on Israel-Diaspora Jewish Relations and countering BDS.
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