US-Israel In Crisis? Not Yet. Stay Tuned

A Wall Street Journal interviewer this week declared "the US-Israel relationship has hit new lows in the Obama era." 

If she had bothered reading this blog or my Washington Watch column, or had she even done a little bit research she'd have known better.

The statement came in the preamble to an interview with Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.  Even Hoenlein, a Netanyahu acolyte, conceded the "fundamentals of the relationship are so strong" and  "they go beyond any individual."

Hoenlein did, however, repeat that old bubbehmysis — which Israel's ambassador to Washington at the time, Michael Oren, said was false —  that Obama had once had Netanyahu enter the White House through a "back door."

The truth is the relationship between the two allies by nearly every measure is not only close but stronger than ever.  The one exception is the personal relationship between two leaders who neither like nor trust each other.

Two events to closely watch are the Palestinian intention to ask the Security Council to recognize their state with the pre-1967 lines as its borders, and the November 24 deadline for nuclear negotiations with Iran. 

On the Iran issue, look for intense opposition from Israel to any deal Obama signs regardless of its content.  Netanyahu knows his maximalist demands are unrealistic but he knows that is popular at home and equally important he expects to have more votes in the Republican-led Congress next year than Obama on this issue. 

Chemi Shalev wrote in Haaretz two years ago that if Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he'd be impeached.

In 1981 Reagan teamed up with Saddam Hussein to sponsor a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for destroying the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor:

Imagine if Israel would launch a successful preemptive strike against a country that is building a nuclear bomb that threatens its very existence, and the American president would describe it as “a tragedy”.

And then, not only would the U.S. administration fail to “stand by its ally”, as Republicans pledged this week, but it would actually lend its hand to a UN Security Council decision that condemns Israel, calls on it to place its nuclear facilities under international supervision and demands that it pay reparations (!) for the damage it had wrought.

And then, to add insult to injury, the U.S. president would impose an embargo on further sales of F-16 aircraft because Israel had “violated its commitment to use the planes only in self-defense”.

A top White House official at the time told Republicans in Congress that they had to choose "Begin or Reagan," but the two leaders themselves were old school cordial and statesmanlike toward each other.  Today we are witnessing a clash of personalities exacerbated by anonymous aides that could become a clash of interests if both sides are not careful. So far there is no sign of change in the billions of dollars in economic assistance, access to top-of-the-line weapons technology, sharing of intelligence and full diplomatic backing in hostile environments. That last one could be sorely tested in coming weeks with the November 24 deadline for an Iranian nuclear agreement and the Palestinian bid for UN recognition.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.