Israel and the U.S. Are Playing in Each Other's Political Backyard

Whereas in the past support for Israel came primarily from the Democratic camp, in recent years many Republicans, as well, have become staunch supporters of Israel.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Obama and Netanyahu during the U.S. president's visit in Israel, March 20, 2013.
Obama and Netanyahu during the U.S. president's visit in Israel, March 20, 2013.Credit: Bloomberg
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

Let it first be said: The relations between Israel and the United States are good and will continue to be so. The U.S. is Israel’s best friend, and the U.S. has no better friend than Israel. Thus it has been for many years, and so it will continue to be.

The intimacy of America’s relations with Israel on many levels are probably not matched by America’s relations with any other country. This is based on common values, ideals and therefore of common strategic interests.

So what is the reason for the recurring tension between Jerusalem and Washington in recent years?

Both countries have been playing in each other’s political backyard. That too is part of the unique relations between the two countries. The issues on which Washington and Jerusalem have been differing and arguing have their reflection in the domestic politics of both countries.

Is it any wonder that the White House is angered when members of Congress declare support for positions taken by the prime minister of Israel which are contrary to the positions taken by the administration in Washington, and suspect that they were put up to it by Israel’s prime minister? Or if Israel’s prime minster is furious when members of the Israeli opposition lend their support to positions taken by President Obama, and concludes that an attempt is being made, orchestrated in Washington, to topple the Israeli government coalition?

The suspicions may often be groundless, but in a climate of differences that cannot be swept under the carpet they are inevitable. You don’t have to be paranoid if under these circumstances you believe that someone is out to get you.

The fact is that many in the U.S. Congress believe that lending unqualified support to Israel is more important than exacerbating the differences about how to pursue the peace process with the Palestinians. They need no urging from Jerusalem to make their voices heard. And many on the left in Israel are eager for the U.S. to pressure Israel to offer concessions to the Palestinians, and threaten to bring down the coalition unless Israel gives in. This is well known in Washington and does not require direct encouragement from there.

And many in the U.S. Congress agree with Netanyahu’s reservations about the current negotiations with Iran regarding the prevention of Iran attaining nuclear capability. These are honest differences of opinion, but are seen in Washington as illegitimate attempts by Israel’s supporters in the U.S. to influence the trend of the negotiations, or worse yet, as an attempt to obtain political gains by the opposition to the president. When the left in Israel claims that Netanyahu is overdramatizing the dangers of a nuclear Iran, battle lines that reach across the Atlantic Ocean are drawn.

Of course, there has been a change since Barak Obama assumed the presidency. In his speech in Cairo six years ago he made it clear that he, unlike past presidents, intended to bring into the open differences that in the past had been discussed in closed meetings, and since then there has been an avalanche of reports – some true and others not – about the arguments that have raged between Washington and Jerusalem.

Add to this the cynical contribution of some American and Israeli journalists blowing some of these arguments out of proportion, and the anger of some officials in Washington at little Israel refusing to take orders from Washington, and indiscreet remarks by “unnamed officials” in this regard, and you have a witches’ brew that poisons the atmosphere.

And yet all this would not be happening if Israel did not have solid and wide-ranging support in the U.S. That support is bipartisan, among Democrats and Republican alike. And that is a change which seems to go unnoticed by some of the Israeli “experts” on America. Whereas in the past support for Israel came primarily from the Democratic camp, in recent years many Republicans, as well, have become staunch supporters of Israel.

This is more important than the scandal-mongering appearing almost daily in the headlines of Israeli newspapers, and bodes well for the future of U.S.-Israeli relations.

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