Commentary Magazine


Who’s Destroying the U.S.-Israel Relationship? Obama Deserves the Blame.

It was President Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who said the administration never wanted to waste a crisis. The maxim appears to still be cherished by the president’s current advisors. The latest administration shot fired at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, this time by National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which she charged the Israeli with acting in a way that was “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship, is best understood by Emanuel’s subsequent explanation of his much-quoted statement: “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Netanyahu’s blunder in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress was an opening that the administration has used to change the discussion about Iran’s nuclear threat to its advantage. But it has also given Obama’s team the chance to do something they’ve been longing to do for six years: openly attack Israel’s government. Yet while they are enjoying doing that, no one should be under any illusions about the fault for the problems between Israel and the United States being solely the fault of Netanyahu.

As I wrote earlier today, Netanyahu’s decision to turn down an invitation to speak to Senate Democrats is the latest in a series of unforced errors that have aided the administration’s efforts to distract the country from their string of unprecedented concessions to Iran on the nuclear issue. By choosing to accept an invitation from the speaker to speak to Congress in favor of a measure the president opposed—increased sanctions on Iran—Netanyahu allowed the White House to make his alleged breach of protocol the issue rather than the president’s indefensible appeasement of Iran in pursuit of a new détente with the Islamist regime.

That was a tactical error. But if we’re going to discuss who has done the most damage to the U.S.-Israel alliance, the notion that Netanyahu’s willingness to speak up about the administration’s drift to appeasement is the main factor tearing it apart means we’ve left the world of analysis and entered that of fiction. If you want to pin the blame for the decline in closeness, the fault belongs to President Obama.

Let’s remember that this is the same man who came into office determined above all to change one thing about U.S. Middle East policy: create more distance between the U.S. and Israel. At that time, the Obama team took it as a given that the reason peace had eluded the region was that George W. Bush had grown too close to Israel. President Obama did everything he could in subsequent years to change that perception, and he succeeded.

But years of pointless spats with Israel over Jerusalem (though Obama’s predecessors had never recognized Israeli sovereignty over its capital, this administration broke new ground by turning building projects in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods into sources of tension), West Bank settlements (in spite of the fact that Netanyahu agreed at one point to a building freeze), and the terms of a final peace settlement brought the region not one inch closer to peace. That’s because no matter how much Obama tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, they were still uninterested in a peace deal. But not even Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas torpedoing peace talks by making a deal with Hamas and heading to the United Nations in violation of his Oslo Accords commitments could convince this administration that the fault for their failure was the fault of anyone but Netanyahu.

Though the Obama administration did increase security cooperation and funding for defense projects like the Iron Dome missile-defense system, it also sought to undermine Israeli self-defense against Hamas attacks at every step, even cutting off the resupply of ammunition during last summer’s Gaza war.

But it is on Iran, an entente with which seems to have become the chief obsession of the president’s second term, that Obama did most to damage the relationship. Though he had pledged that any deal would not allow Iran to keep its nuclear program, a string of concessions has now led to the point where it is clear an agreement would allow it to become a threshold nuclear power. The latest U.S. retreat is now an offer to allow Iran to do anything it likes with its nuclear toys after a ten-year freeze. Moreover, the president’s decision to acquiesce to Iran’s military moves in Iraq and the continuation in power of Tehran ally Bashar Assad in Syria have signaled a major U.S. policy shift. While moderate Arab nations and Israel are worried about Iran’s successful drive for regional hegemony, the administration appears to be encouraging it.

Just as important, it is the administration that has done most to make Israel a partisan issue by trying to break up the bipartisan coalition in favor of Iran sanctions on party lines. Throughout the last few months it has been Obama who has been playing the partisan card to stop Iran sanctions even though prominent Democrats like New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez were leading the charge against his dangerous policies.

It is these actions and not Netanyahu’s inept decisions that are truly damaging the relationship. Blame the prime minister all you want for allowing his speech to become the cause célèbre symbolizing the breakdown in relations under Obama, but it has always been the president who has been the prime mover in damaging the alliance.

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10 Responses to “Who’s Destroying the U.S.-Israel Relationship? Obama Deserves the Blame.”

  1. PAUL FREEDMAN says:

    Jonathan. Please enough hand-wringing that this or that action by Congress or Bibi is a “blunder” or “error” that somehow “allows” the President to exploit a crisis. Absent pretext he’ll create one. A school yard bully will find any pretext to demand that you give him lunch money, your lunch box, your glasses. The pretext isn’t really the issue is it? Even absent a provocation he’s itching to give you a wedgie and stuff you in your locker.

  2. MICHAEL DICK says:

    Mr. Tobin!
    You may consider everything that Bibi did a ‘blunder’ or a “unforced error”, reality is quite different. From the lies of the Administration,that it was not notified of the visit, shown to be a lie by the NYTimes of all people, to the insulting words from Susan Rice, who should not be dogcatcher, let alone adviser to the President, to the lies of Secretary Kerry, who today falsely said that Israel was pushing President Bush to invade Iraq, when the opposite is true, virtually every act and utterance from this Administration has been designed to belittle Israel and disown it. Bibi knows that and he decided to show that Israel is not a vassal. Good for him.

  3. GORDON MILLER says:

    Bibi seems to understand more than our Dear Leader that Iran is the mortal enemy of Israel’s existence, but also of our wonderful country. Bibi needs to do whatever he can to change the American position on this. Who else in the world can make the case for prohibiting the establishment of nuclear power in Iran today than Bibi. His county’s existence is at stake, but our country will fall in line when the Islamic State will gain power and cross over to western territories when they gain power and materials to adequately confront us full force.
    How dare Obama slight Israel’s leader. He is an abomination and and the worst of US presidents of all time.

  4. HARRY BROWN says:

    We seem to be living in an era when anytime someone says or does sonething that angers or aggravates Obama, that person’s actions are judged to be “inept”. Netanyahu’s decisions may, or may not, be proven to be wrong. My opinion is that they were not. But one thing is certain to me. They were not inept.

  5. PAUL FREEDMAN says:

    Obama and Kerry will not bow down to Bibi and the Jewi..Zio..Israel lobby that pushed America into the war with Iraq!!! No way!! Bow down to Khomeni and the mullahs? Ah, that’s something else.


    The only way to awake from this bad dream is to wake up. What will it take to accomplish that with the Jewish vote and support, and finally for that to flee from the Democratic Party? What will it take?


    Shame on Susan Rice and John Kerry who, of course, speak for the President. Obama is definitely to blame on multiple levels and in multiple ways. The Prime Minister of Israel *should* come. We have, at best, a quixotic administration, and we Americans need to hear some straight talk from a grown-up.

  8. GUNTER HILLER says:

    “The Relationship” is not the question. The Iranian threat is.
    Mike Morell, the former Deputy Director of the CIA laid it out clearly
    in his recent interview with Charlie Rose.
    Check it out!

  9. IKE BASMAN says:

    On the point of Bibi not meeting the D senators, I wrote this, which I repeat here:

    …I don’t think it’s such an obvious mistake for Bibi not to meet with the D senators.

    Bibi will be addressing the whole of the legislature where those who want to hear him will come and those who, errantly, don’t won’t. My sense is if the Ds’ invitation can be seen as part of a matrix of attendances, public and private, in complement with each other, then it would be good to accept the invitation. But these senators as far as I know haven’t committed themselves to attending the public address. By meeting privately with legislators who won’t hear him speak publicly, Bibi may sensibly reason, he’s diluting the force of his open public speech for all to hear by getting sucked into domestic American partisan strife.

    As well, what can Bibi tell Durbin and Feinstein they don’t already know or can’t find out? And why do Durbin and Feinstein want to speak to him privately if it’s the case they won’t attend his public address?

    To my mind, something turns on what they decide on that.

    So I think the issue can be reasonably argued either way and reasonable people can disagree. I tend to favour what Bibi decided. But in these circumstances no matter where I came down, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to being as single minded or as judgmental as Tobin is here.

  10. ROBERT STISKIN says:

    Who remembers Democrats at their 2012 Convention BOOING the inclusion of Jerusalem being recognized as Israel’s capitol in the party platform again? I sure do They also booed mention of God—–Netanyahu’s concern is Israel’s survival. Preventing another holocaust. He trusted America to have his back or Israel may have bombed Iranian facilities years ago. Obama has NOBODY”S back——-He and his Administration is not to be trusted. Don’t agree? Where is the MD who helped us get Bin Laden-IN JAIL in Pakistan. Thanks for your help sorry you trusted us to protect you.

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