Noah Pollak makes a fair point: President Obama should have told the leaders of Egypt and Turkey not to turn next week’s nuclear summit in Washington into a forum for bashing Israel. Nevertheless, I am still concerned about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision not to attend.
U.S.-Israeli relations are as bad as they have been in decades; perhaps ever. The fault is mainly Obama’s. I believe Netanyahu has been right not to ban the construction of new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem — a concession that might come at the end of negotiations with the Palestinians but should not be a starting point. (Actually, it’s not even clear whether Netanyahu could ban such construction under any circumstances, given the nature of the conservative coalition that keeps him in office.) Still, Israel cannot afford to draw too far away from the United States, its only reliable friend.
The nuclear summit next week will be marked by a good deal of blather and no significant action — a hallmark of this administration. In any case, it’s a pet project of the president, who is already steamed enough at Bibi. By refusing to attend, Netanyahu risks exacerbating the growing feud with Obama. I find it hard to accept his explanation that he would not go because the Egyptians and Turks would make the Israeli nuclear program an issue. Netanyahu is one of the world’s most accomplished debaters. Surely he would be able to deflect their accusations and turn attention where it belongs — toward Iran’s nuclear program.
There is an obvious reason why the Israeli prime minister canceled his attendance at President Obama’s nuclear security summit: he sought to avoid a combined Egyptian and Turkish attack on Israel’s nuclear program.
But there is an important follow-up question that is of far greater consequence: why do Egypt and Turkey, both American allies, feel at liberty to show up in Washington D.C. at a conference organized by the U.S. president and dump on one of America’s closest allies?
This latest incident is not really about Israel’s relations with Egypt and Turkey; both countries can be counted on to take cheap shots at Israel whenever they can, especially the increasingly Islamist Turkey. The critical issue is why they believed they had a green light to engage in such theatrics. Upon hearing of the ambush they were planning, Obama or Clinton could have sent a very clear message to the Turkish prime minister and the Egyptian dictator: “You either come to Washington and behave yourselves, or stay home. This is a respectable conference, not a platform for anti-Israel grandstanding.”
But clearly, Obama made no such call, and clearly he did not instruct the secretary of state to deliver a 43-minute tongue-lashing to the leaders of either country, as she has recently shown herself capable of doing. There are two possible explanations, and I’m not sure which is more disturbing. Obama either welcomed the prospect of another humiliation of Netanyahu, or he was afraid to stand up to two Muslim leaders. Perhaps both are true.
In his pettiness, Obama has once again lost perspective on what really matters. What could have been a useful opportunity to present a unified front against Iran’s nuclear ambitions has now descended into a spectacle of pointless drama not terribly dissimilar from a meeting of the Arab League. In his decision to indulge Middle East leaders in their obsessive desire to castigate Israel, Obama has once again shown his utter lack of interest in confronting the real threat to America’s national security.