Well maybe not, but the relationship has all the emotion and complexity that would characterize some of the best of them
The two together have always fascinated me, mostly because of the incredibly high stakes they play, both domestic and international, for them and for us. Adding to this dynamic is the fact that they can’t stand each other.
And because both men’s backgrounds are in such stark contrast, they seemed set on a collision course right from the beginning. So with the Iran Nuclear Treaty’s passage almost a certainty, it’s appropriate to reexamine these two major players, and have a look to see if we can’t dig up and identify the elements which motivate them
Netanyahu spent a good deal of his youth in the US. In fact he graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972 and worked for a time with the Boston Consulting Group. However he soon returned home to Israel because of the death of his brother Yoni, who was killed by Palestinian terrorists while attempting to free hostages during the famous Air France hijacking in Entebbe Uganda. Ironically Bibi himself had joined an elite commando group in 1967 and had also been involved in some heroic military efforts.
These experiences must have affected his outlook and worldview. Bio, which does profiles on well-known people, notes that since that time Bibi became active in international affairs, most involving counter terrorism. Later he was elected Prime Minister in 1996 leading the right wing Likud Party, and was later elected again in 2009
Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His background is a bit more familiar to folks than Netanyahu, ironically due in great part to the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump. However a common theme relevant here according to his own writings was one of a struggle to fit in and find an identity. When he later went to Harvard and became president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, one of the reasons he was chosen and succeeded there was his ability to settle the sharply polarized environment there.
Charles C. Johnson of the Blaze, a very conservative outlet, said that conservatives at the Review believed Obama would be more conciliatory and less strident in his liberalism, or that he would proceed in better faith. “He was courteous, decent, and respectful of conservatives, who were a distinct minority on the law review staff,” said Brad Berenson, class of ’91.
So here was Bibi who developed a muscular commando shoot-from-the-hip approach to an unstable world (not unlike our neoconservatives in the US, who worship him).
In fact, his critics joked about this belligerence, particularly during his obsession with the Iran nuclear deal, insisting that Bibi had been claiming that Iran had breakout capability for a nuclear weapon in 2 years every year for the past 20 years.
Obama on the other hand with his more academic and thoughtful (some say too thoughtful) “community organizer” approach to politics and conflict, must have looked to Bibi as one of those skinny whining do-gooders in a Kibbutz.
The Love Runs Out of the Relationship
If there ever was love there, two incidents occurred that sealed its doom.
In reality there was never any evidence that Obama felt comfortable in the same room with Bibi before this time, but these two events created such personal animosity between the two (particularly from Obama’s perspective) that many in the two countries feared an irrevocable breach between the US and Israel.
Bibi’s Gives a History Lesson:
Like many Presidents, Obama tried his hand at the Arab-Israeli conflict, regrettably so.
He and his Middle East consiglieri decided to lead the talks with the premise of “pre-1967 borders” as a starting point for negotiations. They must have felt secure since, as writer Michael Burch notes, this was also the position of past administrations, including those of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan regardless of where the talks ultimately went.
The result was that Bibi overreacted, or more accurately he went off the rails.
So after a 90 minute meeting with Obama in the Oval Office the two came out to a press conference where Bibi preceded to instruct Obama on Israel or, in a larger sense, Middle Eastern history.
With the cameras running, Stephen Collinson of AFP wrote that Bibi warned Obama not to chase “illusions” of Middle East peace thereby opening a deep rift in US-Israel ties. Such borders in Israel were “indefensible”.
So much for Obama’s foray into big Arab Israeli initiatives.
The Iranian Deal
But the best (or worst) was yet to come.
It’s hard to deny that Bibi’s fight against the Iranian Nuclear Treaty isn’t genuine.
However, it’s also hard to deny that John Boehner (who invited Bibi to speak before Congress) as well as Bibi who eagerly responded were eagerly indulging in domestic politics. In fact, Bibi was just at the threshold of an election in Israel.
It was especially egregious of Boehner who, like Bibi, knew absolutely nothing about the terms of the treaty at that time. Making things worse, he didn’t inform the White House which was in the thick of negotiations with Iran at that very time. So much for “politics stops at the water’s edge”, or with foreign policy.
In any case, it was unprecedented. Here was a foreign head of state invited to speak before Congress taking a position against a treaty at the very moment the President’s government was in talks on that very treaty with an adversary of the US (and make that a government that has always supported at great expense the very survival of Israel for generations).
The Critics at Home:
Bibi was not without his detractors, especially at home.
Many in the Israeli military and security establishment were very concerned about his behavior. In an unprecedented move, 180 retired Israeli generals and former top security officials warned that his speech in the US on Iran’s nuclear program “will cause more harm than good”. Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad (Israeli’s CIA) doesn’t buy Netanyahu’s hysteria and said “Israel is a country surrounded by enemies, but the enemies do not scare me,” he said. “I am scared of our leadership”
US – Israel Relationship: Still Strong
The real love story involves this unbreakable relationship and will always survive hotheads. Two heros of Israel backed Obama:
As for Bibi’s “1967 borders are indefensible,” seminar, Michael Burch points out that he was refuted at the time by the man most responsible for defending Israel’s borders: his own Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. In an interview with Edmund Sanders of the Los Angeles Times, Barak pointed out that Israel has the most powerful military within a 1,000-mile radius of Jerusalem and thus has no reason to feel insecure
Josh Gerstein of Politico covered an event where former Prime Minister Shimon Peres said of Obama during a statement to reporters, “You arrive here already with an impressive record of answering our needs, particularly and unforgettably in the domain of security,”.
“The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran,” added Peres, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama last year. “We trust your policy which calls….to try [to resolve the issue] by non-military means with a clear statement that both other options remain on the table. You have made it clear that your intention is not to contain but to prevent.”
Both Ehud Barack and Shimon Peres have said that Obama has been unique in US Presidents in his unwavering support all Israel’s security concerns
So the relationship between the US and Israel will survive again.