The conventional wisdom in recent years is that relations between the United States and Israel are at an all-time low, but I’ve generally been skeptical of the assumptions.
In the Reagan era, for example, Israel vehemently opposed the sale of American weapons to Saudi Arabia, but Reagan did it anyway. Gene Healy over the summer noted that Reagan also “backed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.”
Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev put it this way, “[I]f Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he’d be impeached.”
But reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s new piece on the “crisis in U.S.-Israel relations,” I’m starting to think the conventional wisdom might be correct after all. The article begins with a senior Obama administration official blasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a chickens**t.”
This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. The relationship between these two administrations – dual guarantors of the putatively “unbreakable” bond between the U.S. and Israel – is now the worst it’s ever been, and it stands to get significantly worse after the November midterm elections. By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, but even before that, both sides are expecting a showdown over Iran, should an agreement be reached about the future of its nuclear program.The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet.
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the U.S. official told Goldberg. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”
This doesn’t exactly come as a shock, of course – Netanyahu’s reputation as a petty political operator exists for a reason – but the vigor of the U.S. officials’ comments reinforce just how much damage Netanyahu has done. If the prime minister’s goal was to alienate the White House, he’s succeeded brilliantly.
It’s only fair to note that the administration offered an official reaction to Goldberg’s piece this morning.
A senior administration official’s description of Israel’s prime minister as “chickens—” was “inappropriate and counterproductive,” the White House said early Wednesday.“Certainly, that’s not the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said. “Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and the president have forged an effective partnership and consult closely and frequently, including earlier this month when the president hosted the prime minister in the Oval Office.” […]Baskey acknowledged that “obviously,” the U.S. and Israeli governments “do not agree on every issue.”
You don’t say.