Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marked Sept. 11 with “an unprecedented verbal attack on the U.S. government,” according to Barak Ravid of Haaretz.
Netanyahu told reporters on Tuesday that “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
Netanyahu seems to be having a hard time keeping a lid on his temper these days. But the White House may also be losing patience with Netanyahu. A few hours after Netanyahu’s rant, the White House reportedly declined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to meet with Obama during a UN conference in New York in late September. A White House official said that Obama’s schedule does not allow for a meeting during the two and a half days Netanyahu will be in the United States. Ravid considers the White House’s response as marking “a new low in relations between Netanyahu and Obama, underscored by the fact that this is the first time Netanyahu will visit the US as prime minister without meeting the president.”
From another perspective Bradley Burston points out:
…it’s not every day that the prime minister of an Israel whose very security depends on close cooperation with the White House, appears to work angles to try to see an incumbent president defeated – for example, announcing just at the climax of the Republican convention his intention to go to the UN to tell the world of the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program.
Only, in the case of Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff, it has been literally every day.
On August 14, the Israeli news daily Ma’ariv reported that Netanyahu had given Obama a deadline of September 25 to announce to the world that the US would be taking military action against Iran’s nuclear program. Israel would agree to defer a military attack on Iran if Obama publicly declared — at the UN General Assembly or any other public venue of his choosing — that the US will launch a war on Iran as soon as the US election results are in. No further elaboration — or corroboration — of the Sept. 25 “deadline”, which coincides with the eve of the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, has since appeared in Israeli or US press.
Then, Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers revealed that during his visit to Israel in late August, when he expected to discuss “intelligence and technical issues” with the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu was “at his wit’s end” and lashed out at US Ambassador Dan Shapiro over the Obama administration’s Iran policy. During a radio interview Rogers described the meeting to WJR’s Frank Beckmann as “Very tense. Some very sharp… exchanges and it was very, very clear the Israelis had lost their patience with the [Obama] Administration.” Rogers, a Republican who had issued a pro-Romney statement on July 25 declaring that “America’s national security officials should never allow politics to interfere with their vital work of keeping the American people safe,” nevertheless very publicly took the Israeli Prime Minister’s side against the US president, implicitly criticizing an ambassador for being a diplomat and downplaying the altercation.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Bloomberg Radio that the objective of the sanctions was “to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good-faith negotiation” and that the US is “not setting deadlines.” But Netanyahu insisted in an interview on Sunday that Israel was discussing red lines with the United States. Netanyahu chose a press conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on Sept. 11 to vent his rage.
“Now if Iran knows that there is no red line. If Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it’s doing. It’s continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs,” he said.
Burston views Netanyahu’s Sept. 11 outburst as a response to Obama’s resurgence in the polls, which has short-circuited Netanyahu’s scheme for keeping the US president under his thumb by exploiting his ostensible political vulnerability:
As long as the Obama campaign seemed to be sputtering, there seemed no downside to hectoring, lecturing, and loudly, if indirectly, ridiculing the Obama administration for being soft on Iran. As long as the incumbent president seemed on the ropes, as he did after the sweeping Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections, Netanyahu could view brinksmanship with the White House over Iran as a sure thing.
Take Netanyahu’s demand that the White House set red lines and deadlines, beyond which the United States would be committed to unleashing a military onslaught against Iranian nuclear facilities.
If President Obama failed to agree, Republicans could paint him as weak and open to appeasement. If, on the other hand, Obama did agree, both Netanyahu and the Republican Party could claim victory, taking Obama to task for lacking the leadership they themselves had shown.
That strategy, however, may be backfiring. Burston notes that a growing number of current and former Israeli security, diplomatic, nuclear and intelligence experts have voiced their opposition not just to a unilateral Israeli offensive, but to any attack on Iran. Even Israel’s hawkish Defense Minister Ehud Barak appears to have backed away from supporting an Israeli attack, and is urging that differences of opinion between the US and Israel regarding how to deal with Iran be settled “behind closed doors.”
Furthermore, for several weeks Israeli pundits have been warning about the possible consequences of Netanyahu’s open hostility towards Obama if Obama wins re-election. While no US president can or will sever military ties to Israel or allow it to be “wiped off the map,” there are ways that an American president can show his displeasure that in no way jeopardizes the survival of the Jewish state, but can bode ill for the political fortunes of an Israeli leader who isn’t nearly as popular at home as he is among low-information and right-wing American Jews.
As for red lines, Burston (who lives in Israel) has this recommendation for the Israeli Prime Minister:
If immediate red lines are in order, Benjamin Netanyahu would be well advised to set them for himself, and the malice and abuse and disrespect he has heaped on the president. If deadlines are in order, he might consider his upcoming U.S. visit – and the White House rejection of a meeting with Obama – as an opportune moment to shut down entirely the verbal centrifuges he has set spinning in attacks on the president, the secretary of state, and other administration officials.