Benjamin Netanyahu was supposed to be a champion in America. He grew up in America, was educated in America and worked in America. He's an expert on American history, understands the American economy and knows American politics. He thinks in American English, and the thing he really believes in is the uniqueness of America. Most of the people he appreciates are American tycoons and intellectuals.
Israel's prime minister feels more at home in Washington than in Jerusalem. Still, after three and a half years in office, it is becoming clear that his greatest failure is his American failure. The man who was supposed to create a solid American-Israeli alliance has provoked a deep American-Israeli crisis.
What happened? Something simple. Since Netanyahu is so involved in American politics he became confused. He forgot he was the prime minister of a small country in the Middle East and began thinking he was the leader who would save America from itself. And since Netanyahu is so active in American politics, Barack Obama also became confused. He forgot that Netanyahu is the prime minister of a small country in the Middle East and began treating him as if he were an internal American rival.
Both the Israeli prime minister and the American president were caught in the the same futile concept: Netanyahu as the intimidating leader the Republicans have yet to produce. Netanyahu undermined Obama in a way that only an American Republican could undermine him. Obama fought Netanyahu in a way that only a Democratic president fights an American Republican.
Both in Jerusalem and Washington they crossed the lines, stopped playing by the rules and lost their senses. The Netanyahu-Obama boxing match was the roughest match in town. But there is no symmetry between Obama and Netanyahu. One heads a superpower while the other heads a small country totally dependent on that superpower.
True, successful Israeli prime ministers are not obsequious to Washington and do not become its lackeys. Levi Eshkol courageously backed Dimona even though John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson were opposed. Menachem Begin attacked the Iraqi nuclear facility in Osirak despite the warnings from Ronald Reagan. According to foreign reports, Ehud Olmert destroyed the Syrian nuclear plant without getting the go-ahead from George W. Bush.
But all Israeli prime ministers who held their ground against the White House did so without provoking the Americans. They made sure that support from America for Israel was bipartisan. They did their utmost to ensure that both the liberals from the northeast and the conservatives from the southwest stood at our side. They always showed respect for the incumbent president. Even though they had not studied at MIT, they knew how to conduct the vital relationship with America in a wise and responsible way.
Netanyahu acted differently. His American strategy was aggressive. He tried to recruit American public opinion and Congress against the president. He relied on the strong support of the evangelicals and AIPAC and ignored progressive America. In this way he created the first direct confrontation between the Israeli government on one side and the Democratic Party and the liberal elites on the other. Netanyahu not only argued with Obama but turned himself into the declared enemy of many of Israel's friends in the United States. He pushed himself into America's extremist right corner - he pushed all of us into it.
The irony is that on the main issue - Iran - the prime minister is justified. Netanyahu well understands the Iranian challenge, which many American liberals refuse to understand. But the Israeli prime minister's role is not to be right, but to be wise. In every respect, Netanyahu has not been wise toward America. In perfect American English, he has conducted a failed American policy that has brought him to the edge of the abyss.
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