The relationship between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “the most dysfunctional” ever between an American president and an Israeli prime minister, a veteran former American diplomat said Thursday.
Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who served under six secretaries of state in both Republican and Democratic administrations, added that while there had been strained personal relationships between the two countries top leaders’ in the past, this breakdown was unique in that it had not been corrected in four years, and would now likely be extended with Obama’s re-election and Netanyahu’s likely re-election next week.
Speaking on Warren Olney’s NPR show “To the point,” Miller noted that both Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin, and George H.W. Bush and Yitzhak Shamir had difficult relationships, but in both those cases a common cause emerged to improve the connection. In the case of Carter-Begin, it was the opportunity to make peace with Egypt, and in the case of Bush-Shamir, it was the struggle against Saddam Hussein, where Shamir agreed not to retaliate for Saddam’s Scud missile attacks on Israel.
No such common cause had emerged to salvage the dysfunctional Obama-Netanyahu relationship, he said, noting that even the shared concern over Iran’s nuclear drive was characterized by the “significant difference” between the two men over how to handle the threat.
Miller said he did not share the consequent sense of “cosmic Oy Vey” felt by some over a potential drastic deterioration in ties between the two allied countries. The US-Israel relationship is “too important to fail,” he said.”
Still, he said, the two men “mistrust one another” and “have very little confidence in one another.”
He blamed both men for the situation, saying of Obama, “He looks at Israel and emotes more along the lines that Israel is a national security problem.”
Earlier this week, Obama was quoted as saying that Netanyahu does not know what Israel’s best interests are, and is a “political coward.” Netanyahu hit back by saying that only the Israeli people would determine where their best interests lie.
Obama’s reported comments and Netanyahu’s response have been widely highlighted in these final days of the Israeli election campaign; Israel votes on Tuesday. Critics of the prime minister accuse him of jeopardizing the alliance; his supporters argue that the friction underlines Netanyahu’s robust leadership.