Growing Tension between the US and Israel

There is no doubt that over the last three or four weeks we have witnessed a greater strain on the relationship between Israel and the United States than I have ever seen during my lifetime. It is no secret that the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu has struggled since the President came into office more than six years ago.

While I appreciate that the decision of the Israeli Prime Minister to speak before the US Congress and call into question the approach that the US government seems to be taking towards reaching an agreement with Iran is not an approach or position that the President or various members of the Democratic party agree with but nonetheless it is an issue that many people have expressed grave concern over.

In an article reported in the New York Times last week, President Obama declared that he is going to “wash his hands” of Israel and turn over any dealings between the two countries to John Kerry. A White House representative who wished to remain anonymous said that “The President is a pretty pragmatic person and if he felt it would be useful, he will certainly engage but he’s not going to waste his time.”

Since when has a President described dealings with a country that has also be supportive of the United States and is a strategically important ally, as “a waste of time?”

In the last 48 hours, the President and the White House have continued to make their position clear as it pertains to Israel by very consciously deciding not to participate in discussions at the United Nations as to whether or not Israel is guilty of human rights violations. The discussion that will take place this year will center around Israeli action in Gaza last summer in which there were a large number of casualties suffered including women and children. Although the US position not to engage in discussions in previous years was also a conscious decision, in a year in which Israel is going to come under increased attack and pressure, the absence of the US this year is further evidence of the President’s decision to put pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister to “behave” according to White House standards and to be more supportive of the current government’s position both with regard to negotiations with Iran as well as ongoing peace discussions with the Palestinians.

With regard to the discussions that will take place at the UN regarding human rights violations, on one level I can understand why the United States wants to abstain. After all, does the US want the world to re-focus on US actions that have taken place in previous years where similar issues could or have been raised? One needs look no further than the torture of individuals that took place in Guantanamo Bay. How ironic is it that before the President was elected he stated unequivocally his intention to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and to try the prisoners before civilian or military courts or return them to their home countries.

On Jan. 22, 2009, two days after being sworn in, he signed three executive orders, designed to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.”

Notwithstanding such promise to the American people, three years later the prison still remained open with 166 prisoners, including 86 men cleared for release in 2010 by the presidential task force! Most prisoners who were unlucky enough to be imprisoned there were locked in small maximum security cells, shackled when moving outside, served poor food, provided third-rate medical care and prohibited from having any visitors except lawyers.

Let’s not forget the very conscious decision of the US to invade Iraq in search of “weapons of mass destruction” despite what was discovered to be very clear evidence that no meaningful foundation existed. Think about the thousands of people who lost their life in this pursuit including the death of a large number of American soliders.

In contrast to the actions of the United States in the above two examples, the circumstances applicable to Israel’s attacks in Gaza last year were very different. At least in that case, the Israeli’s were responding to a pounding of missiles directed at population centers in Israel including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Sadly, loss of innocent life in these circumstances is inevitable, especially when Hamas repeatedly located missile launch sites in schools, Mosques and hospitals despite warnings from Israel for people to abandon these locations. What is a country supposed to do in these circumstances? If the US was under attack from one of its neighbors or from a foreign power and the source of the weapons was located in similar places, do we really think that the US would take the position that it is better for there to be loss of their own citizens rather than try and destroy the source of the attack if it meant that innocent civilians would be killed?? Who are we kidding??? The US would do exactly what Israel did. You do everything in your power to warn people in advance to leave such locations and then if they refuse, you take what action is appropriate to protect your country and it’s citizens. Let’s not forget that last summer in the middle of the attacks, Israel tried on numerous occasions to send aid to the Palestinians, which was rejected by Hamas unilaterally as they would rather their citizens suffer as it made for better images on the news media.

Let’s also not forget that last year Mahmoud Abbas threatened Israel with a global religious war if Jews were allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. Following Abbas’s statement “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated”, the Obama administration insisted that Abbas “is the best interlocutor Israel is ever going to have.” In 2014, Abbas agreed to share power with Hamas, a terrorist organization whose mission as it pertains to Israel has been clear and unambiguous for years. Is the Israeli Prime Minister supposed to sit back and ignore the clear and apparent threat and risk to its citizens?

The irony of discussions taking place with the US and Iran right now is that the President’s administration appears on some basis to be on better terms with Iran than it is with Israel. This is some cause for concern given the pr0nouncement of the recent group of terrorists who have been attacking in Yemen which has as its slogan “God is Great, death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews, power to Islam.”

If you were to ask the recently deposed president from Yemen his point of view, especially now following the need for the US Special Forces in that region to evacuate, I suspect he may share some of the concerns that Israel has expressed when it comes to the ongoing threat from Iran’s nuclear capability.

President Obama continues to take a position that “we are winning the war against the Islamic State” but the fact is that these terrorists continue to expand their reach and control into areas such as Libya, Yemen and Nigeria.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting for one minute that there is any easy solution to a problem that has existed in a region for thousands of years. But let’s also not forget how much help Israel has been to the US over a large number of years providing invaluable intelligence and support to the US in the region in the same way that the US has continued to be a major supporter of Israel both economically and with massive support for the Israeli military. There is no doubt that funding from the US which enabled Israel to have access to the Iron Dome has saved the lives of thousands of Israelis who would have otherwise suffered certain death.

These are not easy times for anyone. But certainly if given the threat of terrorism in the region, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt are willing to shows some signs of finding commonality with Israel to fight an enemy that is a threat to everyone, surely the US can find a way to stay engaged as well and not put up a complete barrier in diplomatic discussions.

I completely agree that the conduct and actions of Netanyahu over the last month are far from ideal but for the President and the White House to shut off direct dialogue between two very important world leaders is not acceptable conduct in this day and age given everything that is going on in the world. It is time to put personal agendas to one side and focus on what the real issues are at hand. By closing doors and putting up roadblocks between two countries whose relationships are key to any kind of peace in the region is not a strategy that I can and will ever endorse.

About the Author
Craig Emanuel is a partner in the US based law firm of Loeb & Loeb where he is head of entertainment department on a global basis. His clients include writers, directors, actors and producers working in film and television.