This Is a Strange Way for Friends to Behave

This Is a Strange Way for Friends to Behave

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

There is a curious dynamic transpiring now between the U.S. and Israel as both sides engage in a series of political calculations especially within Israel. One might have expected that after all the fuss and ugliness between Bibi and Obama there might be an effort for parties on all sides to try to pull together.  Furthermore, given the dimension of major regional issues—Iran, ISIS, Turkey, Kurds, Syria, and Iraq– which ought to be of primary concern to all, “moving on” ought to have developed as the dominant theme. Without even considering the lesser volatile issues–like chaos in Libya, Egyptian elections, oil prices plunging, and Hezbollah’s saber rattling—the Israeli leadership might better have opted to pull together after months of internal and external bitterness.

Instead Israel is presenting mixed messages emanating from various political circles. Regardless of what the U.S. Secretary of State said about the importance of renewing peace talks, why must the Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett once again decide to gang up on Kerry?  Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly made his point that he believes that Iran is the critical threat to be addressed now in the region; but is it not time to stop and realize that maybe a softer approach might be more constructive than a constantly belligerent one? Since when has Foreign Minister Liebermann become the savior for American interests in the Israel Cabinet?  Is it only before coming to the U.S. for an official visit, that Defense Minister Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon suddenly has decided that maybe Israel ought to be more grateful publically for the extra military assistance that opened up for Israel as it was needed this summer?  None of this rivals the pointless utterances John Kerry, whose very good intentions are devoid of any realistic understanding of the true regional dynamics, but his focus on moving ahead with peace talks appears to be genuine and certainly not destructive. That the State Department needed to bring out Martin Indyk to underscore Kerry’s good intentions was a sad reflection on how low certain aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship has descended.

Bibi does not face elections before November 2017, but the political jockeying has already begun within the Likud Party and within the coalition as all parties will face internal party elections before the election. Obama recognizes the distinct prospect of the Democrats losing the Senate on November 4, leaving him even more politically weakened for the balance of his term.  Obama may not want to involve Congress in any Iran agreement while Netanyahu can argue that tougher sanctions against Iran will only be assured by Congress; especially one that might be totally controlled by Republicans. These friends could both consider being more sensitive to each other’s political problems—at least in public.

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