Obama versus Netanyahu and Netanyahu versus Obama

Obama versus Netanyahu and Netanyahu versus Obama

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

When one of America’s most respected and most responsible Jewish journalists is questioning the sincerity of the intentions of the President of the United States to support Israel, it may well be time to take notice as to whether Israel has a real problem. At the same time, when a young Tikvah Fellow and former editor of the Harvard Crimson writes a balanced analysis of past confrontations between the Israel and the U.S. explaining why this crisis is merely another example of a long history of contretemps between the two allies, it may well not be the best of times but it certainly is not the worst.

Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of the New York Jewish Week expressed concerns and reservations in his column last week as to whether President Obama truly has Israel’s back when it comes to Iran. Indicating that he wanted to believe that Israel was well protected by the Obama Administration, but he was beginning to have serious reservations. He based this largely on the extent to which people continue to dismiss the seriousness of Iran’s expressed intentions against Israel and because there seems to be a drumbeat of attacks against Israel’s warmongering.

Yair Rosenberg, writing in the on-line magazine Tablet, explained that the U.S. has a long list of Presidents who, in the eyes of the Israelis and their American supporters, have been called the most anti-Israel President. (Rosenberg also elaborates on how many Israeli Prime Ministers were far more conservative and far less willing to seek an accommodation with the Palestinians than is Netanyahu.  His discussion of Netanyahu is far more nuanced and better reasoned than Peter Beinart’s.)

Ironically, it seems that a different news leak may have it right. There is much talk about Israeli acquiescence not to attack Iran until after the November election. No one would seek to muzzle Israel as it raises the battle threat, but Obama must have offered sufficient guarantees to Israel for it to be willing to abide by this understanding. Rosenblatt in fact gives some curious indirect credibility to this idea when he notes that Israel rarely gives fanfare or publicity when a raid or an attack is imminent. On the other hand, ratcheting up the pressure on the U.S. may also be Israel’s way to demonstrate to the Obama Administration that despite their understanding, if the situation deteriorates further, Israel will attack in the weather window in late September and early October.

All of which intimates that the U.S. and Israel must be coordinating plans at the highest levels-diplomatically, militarily, and in intelligence, while both sides play their public cards for all they are worth. What it suggests here is that at the end of the day Obama’s major constraint is only to try to avoid having Iran attacked before Election Day, not that they want the increased leverage available after Election Day then to be able to constrain Israel.

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