Obama and Netanyahu in the Oval Office. Washington, D.C., March 5, 2012.
Obama and Netanyahu in the Oval Office. Washington, D.C., March 5, 2012. Photo by Bloomberg
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Operation Protective Edge in Gaza has created a very public crisis in relations between Israel and the United States. The Netanyahu government has always had a tense relationship with the Obama administration, but until several weeks ago the deep disagreements over policy toward Iran and the Palestinians did not hurt Israel’s vital interests. The Americans made it clear that diplomatic differences would not shake the United States’ strong commitment to Israeli security and to preserving the power of the Israel Defense Forces.

That commitment has begun to waver in the wake of the fighting in the Gaza Strip, as Washington announced that it will tighten its policies for providing arms to the IDF. There is no greater expression of the rift in relations: The Obama administration is threatening to hamper Israel’s military capabilities, in response to the use of excessive force that led to immense destruction and the deaths of many Gazan civilians. According to a report by Barak Ravid on August 15, Washington was horrified by “Black Friday,” August 1, when Israel shelled Rafah in response to the capture of Lt. Hadar Goldin. These events were preceded by a series of leaks that highlighted the tensions between Netanyahu and senior U.S. officials, particularly President Barack Obama. The Americans decided to signal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that their patience was running out.

Israel’s ties with the United States are managed directly by the prime minister. He must guarantee that the essential support from the United States will not be harmed, and that Israel will continue to receive military support and diplomatic backing. Netanyahu has tugged on the leash with Washington by refusing to engage in substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, criticizing the nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers and by supporting Obama’s Republican rival in the 2012 election. Netanyahu arrogantly tied to convince the Israeli public that Obama was hostile and weak, that his Middle East policy was feeble and that Israel could rely on its friends in Congress to bypass the White House. As an expression of his disregard for the administration, Netanyahu appointed Ron Dermer, known for his ties to Republicans, as ambassador to Washington.

Netanyahu’s arrogance peaked during Operation Protective Edge, as he asked for U.S. help to reach a cease-fire and then depicted U.S. officials as interfering in Israel’s conduct of the war. Netanyahu’s approach is dangerous. He must ease the tension with Washington and act to repair the rift with Obama, who will remain in office for the next two and a half years. U.S. support is essential. If it is lost, Netanyahu will also lose the support of the public, which applauded his leadership during the war.