The deep abyss into which US-Israeli friendship was dumped this week is virtually unbridgeable because there is no point of contact between the ideology and politics held by President Barack Obama and his chief advisers Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod and Israel’s fundamental security needs – no matter who sits in the Prime Minster’s Office in Jerusalem.
When he visited Washington this week, Binyamin Netanyahu discovered to his dismay that the protestations of America’s “rock solid” support for Israel’s security and future by top Obama administrations officials and US guarantees to furnish Israel with the resources needed for its defense were no more than lip-service to the verities espoused by previous administrations. Equally outdated were the standard Israeli assertions that the US needs Israel, its strategic partner, as much as Israel needs America.
Common ground between Washington and Jerusalem has shrunk exponentially in the current administration fourteen months: President Obama wants to see a Palestinian state stretching across all the territory Israel captured in 1967 including Jerusalem (forget the UN resolution promising Israel secure, defensible borders), the siege lifted on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a territorial link between the two Palestinian territories (across a chunk of southern Israel) and a large number of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, most of whom are concentrated in Syria and Lebanon, returned – some to their former homes in Israel, some resettled on the West Bank.
But before getting to that point, the president wants a guarantee that Israel will not attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and docilely swallow his acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran as a fact of Middle East life.
This is obviously what Obama has been pushing for all along, notwithstanding his speeches against Iran’s nuclear bomb drive. How else to explain why his administration has never lifted a finger against Iran – not even in the form of sanctions?
President Obama brooks no recalcitrance and therefore the showdown he staged with the Israeli prime minister at the White House this week was inevitable; Jerusalem was a convenient trigger, but he might have grabbed any other handy issue as a device for a confrontation designed to bring about the fall of Netanyahu and his government.
He therefore has no qualms about seeking regime change in Jerusalem – even ahead of Tehran.
History has shown that whenever a US president decided to oust an Israeli leader, he succeeded. When Yitzhak Rabin stood up to the Middle East policies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in the late 1970’s, his wife’s illegal foreign currency account in New York happened to come to light and force his resignation.
Twenty years later, the first President George Bush and James Baker contrived Yitzhak Shamir’s downfall over the gap in their outlooks on the region. After he challenged Bill Clinton, Netanyahu had a taste of the same American presidential medicine which ended his first term as prime minister prematurely in 1999.
Obama is confident that the Israeli voter will punish Netanyahu for disagreeing with him this time round as well. He has lost patience with the endless complexities of Middle East peacemaking and, possibly because of his failure to bring Iran to heel, is in a hurry to get the process moving after dictating its outcome.
Getting what he wants, he believes, necessitates Netanyahu’s removal
The difference between Barack Obama and his predecessors is that his methods are far blunter, swifter and more brutal. After he showed his teeth to the prime minister, it no longer matters that he erred tactically in using Jerusalem, an issue on which most Israelis and American Jews are united, as his pretext for triggering huge crisis – or that the Israeli prime minister blundered foolishly in going to Washington and putting his head in the lion’s mouth.
What matters now is that Netanyahu’s options have narrowed to three:
1. He can resign and call a snap election, running on the Iran and Jerusalem tickets. In any case, Washington and his political rivals at home are intent on forcing him out.
2. He can order the Israeli military to attack Iran, an action which would restore Israel to its former pivotal position on the Middle East stage, an advantage it lost in 2006 by failing to drive Hizballah into the ground.
Again, if he holds back, his hand may be forced by Iran and its allies, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas, who will be encouraged to go on the offensive by Obama’s cold shoulder to the Jewish state.
3. He can take cover and do nothing and hope the ill wind blows over.
He has opted for non-response so far against the British decision to expel the Mossad representative at the Israeli embassy in London over the forged passports allegedly used by the Dubai killers. Israel’s failure to hit back in kind has caused the Australian, French and other governments whose passports were cloned to seriously consider following in the UK’s footsteps.
London has given the Obama administration an opening for further isolating and humiliating Israel.
As Netanyahu was airborne on his way home Thursday, March 25, the Washington Post underscored this lesson: “Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arm’s length,” the paper wrote.
Will the prime minister take this lesson to heart? It is up to him to stand up and show that Israel will never accept the humiliation of being treated as a legitimate US target for regime change and reduced to the level of a Third World dictatorship.