In early August, Washington officials were upset by an official Israeli leak to the media that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had personally called the U.S. ambassador to Israel to warn that the Obama administration was “not to ever second-guess me again” about strategy in dealing with the Palestinians. It is a reasonable inference that this verbal shot was aimed at the president of the United States, the leader of the state of Israel’s heretofore closest ally.
Senior Israeli officials even launched personal attacks on Secretary of State John Kerry when he tried to mediate a cease-fire. “It’s become very personal,” as an Israeli official put it.
The people of Israel and Israel’s supporters abroad would do well to ponder the implications of such rash actions, as well as Netanyahu’s general attitude toward President Obama. Indeed, Netanyahu and his team are often characterized by reckless and untrustworthy behavior toward the United States. The prime minister often does meddle in U.S. politics. A leading Israeli commentator recently wrote: “The problem is that Netanyahu has become a domestic political enemy of the president and his party. That is a blunder of historic proportions.”
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Consider this shocking report in the Wall Street Journal of Aug. 14: The White House, when trying to rein in Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, was caught off-guard as it learned that the Israelis had been securing supplies of weaponry from the Pentagon without approval at the highest level! Not for the first time has the prime minister used his behind-the-scenes influence in Washington, from the Pentagon to Congress, to lobby organizations like AIPAC.
Yet President Obama has been a steadfast backer of Israel’s right to defend itself. The strongest proof is U.S. funding for the Israeli-developed Iron Dome air defense system, which has been and remains a critical “game-changer” when shooting down incoming rockets from Gaza.
But Israel likes a one-sided relationship in which it takes and we give. That is what the Israeli lobby, led by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, is all about. They are always overplaying their hand.
It has become obvious how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. And both sides know it. Several experts believe that U.S.-Israeli relations are at the lowest point since Obama took office.
Israeli officials like to think that the countries of the world are looking at U.S.-Israel relations “as a barometer of the reliability of the U.S. as an ally.” However, Ambassador Martin Indyk is closer to reality: Israel could suffer if it undercuts the perception that the U.S. still wields strong influence. “If they undermine our ability to influence their adversaries, or (the) belief of their adversaries in our ability to influence them, then they’re going to face a much more difficult situation.”
The prime minister of Israel simply must not be allowed to jerk around the president of the United States. No self-respecting president can allow himself to be treated this way. Netanyahu and his advisers are miscalculating their place in a world where the U.S. has many primary interests and priorities.
William E. Jackson Jr. of Davidson has held national security positions in the U.S. Senate and the State Department.