Something bad is happening in the U.S.-Israel relations lately. While this relationship had its ups and downs in the past, things are hitting bottom when it comes to relations between the American president and the Israeli prime minister.
Netanyahu was right in raising the alarm against the Iranian rush to the nukes, although I was somewhat less impressed with him pushing Israel to the forefront, instead of working behind the scenes. However, his speech in Congress, a last-minute attempt to scuttle the impending deal, was controversial, at best. Furthermore, it made the support of Israel a partisan issue. In the end, it didn't accomplish much, except for triggering some acid remarks from President Obama.
In an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on July 14, Obama said that, “(Netanyahu) perhaps thinks he can further influence the congressional debate, and I’m confident we’re going to be able to uphold this deal and implement it without Congress preventing that.”
So this has become a personal conflict between the two leaders, on the American home ground. And as if this were not clear enough, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer met last week with 40 Republican lawmakers in yet another attempt to thwart the deal.
If this plan succeeds, and Congress eventually overrides a presidential veto, Netanyahu and Dermer will leave in the White House, for more than a year, a bitter president who might think that his greatest achievement in foreign affairs was snatched from him by Israel.
It’s a pity, because under the leadership level, relations between the two countries have been flourishing. There is so much to gain from amicable relations at the top, and so much to lose from the lack of it.
In a 2012 report for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock wrote of “the numerous, often-ignored benefits of the special bilateral relationship. In the hard security realm, Israel remains an important partner in dealing with evolving terrorist and military threats as well as preserving the competitiveness of the U.S. defense-industrial base through joint development efforts and cutting-edge technology. Just as important, Israel has facilitated U.S. efforts to deal with emerging soft security challenges related to economic competitiveness, the information technology revolution, resource sustainability, and public health.”
Eisenstadt and Pollok provided some interesting points, sometimes obscured by the exaggerated focus on conflict, settlements, and politics. In their report, they highlighted the fact that U.S. corporations had established research and development centers in Israel, “to take advantage of its leadership” in a number of fields. Their list, along with world rankings:
▪ No. 1 in engineers/scientists per capita;
▪ No. 1 in quality of scientific research institutions;
▪ No. 1 in research and development as a percent of the economy;
▪ No. 1 in wastewater recycling (80 percent);
▪ No. 2 in clean-tech innovation;
▪ No. 4 in patents per million population;
▪ No. 5 in scientific publications per capita.
These accomplishments should fill the heart of every Israeli with pride, but not with hubris. With all due respect to the benefits America gains from Israel, in their partnership, the former is the senior and the latter is the minor one.
Therefore, instead of digging in with his obstruction of President Obama's moves, Netanyahu should have cut his losses and cool-headedly worked with Israel's great ally on a security deal that would offset some of the potential threats of the Iranian deal. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Israel last week, and I hope that behind closed doors, the Israeli leaders dropped their previous opposition and did exactly that.
Finally, this week U.S. authorities decided that Jonathan Pollard, who had spied for Israel, will be released in November, after serving 30 years in prison. The Pollard case was a thorn in the flesh of the American-Israeli relations for the last three decades, with administration after administration rejecting Israel’s pleas to release him.
Some see in this move an attempt by the Obama administration to appease Israel, helping it swallow the bitter pill of the Iran nuclear deal. To me, it has quite a different meaning.
Pollard should have been released a long time ago, having served more time than any other spy. However, by not releasing Pollard one day before the 30 years he had received, America sent to Israel a message, one that the Roman Empire used to send to small nations or tribes that occasionally checked if the Romans had gone soft: You don't mess with a great power and get away with it.
Netanyahu, a fan of history books, should have known that.