30 March 2010

Fareed Zakaria on Netanyahu

Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria had a piece in the 29 March edition (see here) on the subject of the current crisis in US-Israeli relations. Headlined Bibi’s bluster, it carries the strapline The Israeli Prime Minister says his nation’s security is his top priority. Too bad he’s undermining it.

Zakaria makes the point that this crisis hasn't been caused by just one event—the announcement, while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, to approve new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem. It caps a year of increasingly strained relations between Washington and Tel Aviv.

He notes that Netanyahu apologised about the timing of the housing announcement, but remains unyielding on the substantive question, and claims to be guided by the vital interests of the State of Israel.  In identifying those vital interests, Zakaria says that it would be clear to anyone who has listened to Netanyahu over the last few years that Iran tops his list.  He goes on:

But after watching Netanyahu's government over the past year, I have concluded that he is actually not serious about the Iranian threat. If tackling the rise of Iran were his paramount concern, would he have allowed a collapse in relations with the United States, the country whose military, political, and economic help is indispensable in confronting this challenge? If taking on Iran were his central preoccupation, wouldn't he have subordinated petty domestic considerations and done everything to bolster ties with the United States? Bibi likes to think of himself as Winston Churchill, warning the world of a gathering storm. But he should bear in mind that Churchill's single obsession during the late 1930s was to strengthen his alliance with the United States, whatever the costs, concessions, and compromises he had to make.

In a smart piece of analysis in Israel's Haaretz newspaper, Anshel Pfeffer, no fan of the Obama administration, writes, "When senior ministers or generals list Israel's defense priorities, there is always one point on which there exists total consensus: The alliance with the United States as the nation's greatest strategic asset, way above anything else. It is more crucial than the professionalism of the Israel Defense Forces, than the peace treaty with Egypt and even than the secret doomsday weapons that we may or may not have squirreled away somewhere…But [Netanyahu] has succeeded in one short year in power to plunge Israel's essential relationship with the United States to unheard of depths."

This is the same Netanyahu that The Australian’s Greg Sheridan seems to see as a wise leader around whom we should all rally, attributing President Obama’s coolness towards him as an “anti-Israel jihad”, and describing the widespread criticism of Israeli actions as “hysterical” (see Greg Sheridan’s jihad).

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