Of Course There’s a Crisis in US-Israeli Relations


obama-netanyahu1By Morton A. Klein and Daniel Mandel

We are, again, in the midst of that periodic occurrence: a crisis in Israel/US relations. This one revolves around White House pique over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to address the US Congress on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, an issue on which the White House and Jerusalem have been divided for some time.

But any remotely careful analysis of the US/Israel relationship will show that Jerusalem and the White House (but rarely the Congress and, by extension, the US electorate) have often clashed on issues deemed vital to Israel’s security and existence.

In fact, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared Israel’s very independence in the face of strong opposition from US Secretary of state George Marshall.

Though personally favorable to Israel and quick to extend recognition to the new Jewish state when it emerged in May 1948, president Harry Truman imposed an arms embargo during Israel’s 1948-49 war of survival against six Arab nations. The embargo hurt Israel, which had few sources of weaponry, rather than the Arabs, who enjoyed many.

In 1956, Israel conquered the Sinai from the Egyptians, following six years of constant attacks by terrorist bands (fedayeen) sponsored by Egypt. Nonetheless, the Eisenhower administration insisted on Israel withdrawing completely from Sinai without any peace treaty or recognition demanded from Egypt and threatened Israel with sanctions if it failed to comply.

In 1967, Egypt imposed a blockade on Israel’s southern port at Eilat. Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban asked president Lyndon Johnson to honor U.S. commitments made in 1957 to ensure free passage of Israeli shipping and break the blockade.

Johnson refused.

When Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria in 1973 the US pressured Israel into ending the war prematurely when Israeli forces were on the road to Damascus and Cairo. This prevented Israel from achieving a more decisive military victory.

During the Carter administration, the US voted for UN Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon following an Israeli incursion in 1978 – despite the fact that Lebanon had been the launching pad for major terrorist attacks on Israel – and condemning Israel’s annexation of the eastern half of Jerusalem; both vitally important issues to Israel.

In 1981, prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor.

This was condemned by the Reagan administration, even though a nuclear-armed Saddam would have posed a mortal threat to Israel.

Successive US administrations have opposed Israeli settlement in the territories conquered in 1967, leading to recurrent tensions and crises in the relationship. In 1992, the first Bush administration even withheld loan guarantees to Israel in protest against Israeli settlement policies.

During the Oslo peace process (1993-2000), the Clinton administration often pressured Israel to make one-sided concessions of territory, arms, assets and even the releasing of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists, while ignoring Palestinian failure to comply with its obligations to stop terrorism and end the incitement to hatred and murder that feeds it. Securing new agreements was preferred to holding Palestinians to past ones, as US chief negotiator Dennis Ross subsequently admitted.

The US has criticized Israel’s security fence and both president George W. Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell pressured Israel to curtail military incursions against terrorist strongholds, most notably during Israel’s offensive in Jenin in 2002. Despite US understanding that the Palestinian Authority has been a haven and launching pad for terrorists, the Bush administration pressed Israel to resume negotiations and make concessions to the PA .

So why the panic about the latest crisis? When the US president and Israel do not agree on a policy bearing on the existence and security of Israel, there is bound to be a crisis. Yet none of these crises ruptured the US/Israeli relationship; indeed, they often served as the unlikely preludes to a stronger relationship.

The US /Israeli relationship became truly strategic in the 1970s, only years after the crisis that led to the Six Day War. The early ructions between the two countries in the first years of the Reagan administration settled into an expanded and harmonious strategic relationship for its remainder.

President Barack Obama has sought to cast Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address Congress as a slap in the face. But it isn’t.

The issue is entirely a product of Obama’s policy on Iran, which engenders bipartisan concern in Israel. Put simply, President Obama seems willing to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons threshold capacity – but Israel is not. Of course there’s a crisis.

Obama was glad to have British Prime Minister David Cameron urging members of Congress last month in support of his Iran policy, but is peeved to have Netanyahu there critiquing it. In the end, however, the two countries are bound in an alliance by a range of common interests which even a major policy difference can only temporarily sour, but not sunder.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. There’s a fundamental difference between the current “crisis” and those quoted in the article. In the past US presidents have, as a manner of policy, been supportive of Israel but may have disagreed, often vehemently, regarding specific actions or policies. This president has made it quite clear that his general outlook towards the jewish state is not that of a friend or ally. A US president viewing and treating Israel as a pariah is indeed unprecedented.

  2. #1 Sorry,

    I’d like to point out how wrong you are. I’d like to show you how misguided your statement is. Then, I’d like to refute your statement with a point-by-point argument.

    Unfortunately, much as I’d like to, I can’t. After observing President Obama’s treatment of Prime Minister Netanyahu over the last six years it’s clear that your post is (all too sadly) correct.

    On a related note…
    It’s time for Jewish left-leaning folks to recognize that this President is seriously anti-Israel. This isn’t an indictment of liberals in general – Senator Schumer and Alan Dershowitz are but two examples of left-leaning people who are extremely pro-Israel – but a criticism of this one individual. Defending President Obama’s record toward Israel because he’s a liberal Democrat is as foolish as Jewish conservatives defending Pat Buchanan because he’s conservative. (Of course, Nazi-defending Buchanan is far worse than President Obama; my point is we need to separate philo or anti-Semitism from left or right-wing perspectives.)

  3. # 2.

    Sorry. Where’s Schumer? He talks big in front of Jewish audiences, but he still supports Obama’s policies and won’t do anything counter to Obama.

  4. #3

    Do you have any idea how critical Senator Schumer has been of President Obama on this very issue? Are you aware that Schumer has been urging his fellow Democratic senators, including NY’s junior Senator Gillibrand, to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech?
    Senator Schumer has a long, long track record of always supporting Israel, regardless of venue and audience.

    Use Google or any other search engine to confirm this for yourself.