Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke a tacit détente. He accused the Obama administration, albeit not by name, of going squishy on Tehran by not creating concrete benchmarks — “red lines,” he called them — for a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The latest flare-up in the tempestuous Obama-Netanyahu relationship was overshadowed Wednesday by the carnage at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But U.S. officials believe the intense debate over the allied response to Iran’s nuclear program — and the sharp personal, policy and political differences between the two leaders — rivals the perils posed by the excesses of the Arab Spring.
Diplomacy is, ultimately, about relationships. Obama and Netanyahu don’t really have one. And that’s created an odd and unwelcome rivalry among allies — a testy liberal-vs.-conservative chess match that mirrors Obama’s contest with Mitt Romney, who has known Netanyahu for years.
“There is a lack of rapport between these two men — they don’t like each other very much. Plus, there are serious differences between our interests and Israel’s own security interests,” said former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who was present for several of Obama’s nine face-to-face meetings with Netanyahu.
“I don’t think that Netanyahu is trying to influence the outcome of our election, though a lot of people see it that way,” Crowley said. “It’s about agenda-setting. He just watched two conventions where Israel and Iran were mentioned, but not significantly discussed, even with the whole rigmarole [at the Democratic convention] about Jerusalem in the platform. He’s trying to get it onto the front burner.”