Even in the cordial remarks before the meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one could sense the tension between two very different visions of the Middle East.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to President Obama deliver remarks to members of the news media in the Oval Office on Wednesday. (Washington Post)

Recall just days ago Obama at the United Nations lectured the Jewish state, “The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. And that’s something worthy of reflection within Israel.”

That is quite absurd and quite insulting. Israel has just fought a war against terrorists determined to destroy it. And despite this, and an alliance between Fatah and Hamas and viciously anti-Semitic drivel from Mahmoud Abbas — who has refused over and over again to recognize the Jewish state and give up the so-called right of return — Israel still expresses support for a two-state solution. What other country would do the same?

But for Obama, the failure to obtain “peace” is always attributable to insufficient effort by Israel, not the mentality of its adversaries. Moreover, it is evident that the president is in pursuit of some sort of detente with the Iranians, who support the very terrorists killing Israelis and who seek to obliterate the Jewish state.

As Netanyahu put it at the U.N. in his address, “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. ISIS and Hamas share a fanatical creed, which they both seek to impose well beyond the territory under their control.” In other words, don’t think you can make a deal with Hamas’s backers in Iran for the dream of a united front against the Islamic State. And as for Iran, Netanyahu let it be known that conciliation with the Islamic revolutionary state is unthinkable:

[D]on’t be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive. It’s designed for one purpose, and for one purpose only: To lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran’s path to the bomb. The Islamic Republic is now trying to bamboozle its way to an agreement that will remove the sanctions it still faces, and leave it with the capacity of thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium. This would effectively cement Iran’s place as a threshold military nuclear power. In the future, at a time of its choosing, Iran, the world’s most dangerous state in the world’s most dangerous region, would obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons.

It is therefore not surprising that while polite, the leaders’ introductory remarks talked past one another once again. Obama ran through the issues they would discuss beginning with Gaza and the “peace process” and ending with “the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.” Iran came last and rated a single sentence. Also noteworthy was the word choice. The president no long speaks about “destroying” Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons program, merely “dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.”

By contrast, Netanyahu quickly cut to the most important issue for his country — Iran. He praised the president’s efforts against the Islamic State but emphasized “even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power. As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.” In other words: Don’t be bamboozled. Don’t make a deal with the devil that gives him what he wants (a nuclear capability).

Most interesting was Netanyahu’s emphasis on Israel’s new, albeit quiet friendship with Sunni states. These countries feel imperiled as Israel does by Iran and mistrustful of Obama’s commitments, as does Israel. Netanyahu noted that “there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states. And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.”

Meanwhile, the State Department took to bashing Israel once again for building in eastern and southern neighborhoods of its capital. The White House spokesman chimed in with a snide remark that the housing announcement “would call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.” (He did not mention that a settlement freeze previously instituted under Netanyahu had zero effect on Abbas’s willingness to even attend peace talks.) Although he said the specific housing projects did not come up in the meeting with Obama, Netanyahu “in a briefing in New York with reporters who accompanied him on his trip to the US, said that as Israel’s prime minister he did not understand the criticism of Jews legally buying and moving into property in Jerusalem. ‘Arabs in Jerusalem freely buy apartments, and nobody says that is forbidden. I will also not say that Jews cannot buy property in Jerusalem. There cannot be discrimination between Jews and Arabs,’ he said.” 

Little has been heard as of this writing about what was said behind closed doors. That’s probably a hopeful sign. At least they aren’t throwing things at one another. Reading between the tea leaves, however, one can see Netanyahu’s most important message: Don’t think we and our new Sunni friends will stand by and watch you make a sweetheart deal with the mullahs like the one that allowed North Korea to go nuclear. One can imagine a platitudinous response from the president — and then resumption of harping about the “peace process” and irritation that he is not being sufficiently lauded for taking on the Islamic State (too late and too half-halfheartedly, critics would say).

Such is the state of the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Until there is a U.S. president who is not desperate for a deal with Iran, not convinced Israel is to blame for lack of a peace deal and not determined to avoid clear and unequivocal projection of American power, don’t expect anything to change.