Iran’s propaganda machine Press TV on Monday reported that U.S. President Barack Obama had “unfriended” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Facebook.
Predictably, it turned out the report was a hoax. Iran’s humorless propagandists reported as fact a joke from an Israeli satire site. And yet, despite the big journalistic oops (as if they care), the Iranian voice box made a legitimate point. The two men, ostensibly leading figures in world diplomacy, have in recent weeks been behaving like sulky teenagers.
Netanyahu unwisely accepted an invitation from the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, to address Congress, specifically to pressure the Americans to increase sanctions on Iran. The fact that this visit would take place at the height of the Israeli election campaign has been criticized by some, with others noting that former president Bill Clinton hosted Shimon Peres during an election cycle. The fact that the invitation came from the speaker of the house, rather than from the president, whose responsibilities include being the country’s foremost voice on foreign affairs – and its head of state and commander in chief – is a significant protocol breech, but a deliberate one.
We are becoming almost inured to successive hyperbolic assertions that bilateral relations between the United States and Israel are at their lowest ebb. But this time, it seems true, although a result of such foolishness that it seems almost comical, as well as tragic. These two men, whose seeming dislike for each other they are not even mature enough to hide or deny, are submerging the best interests of the relationship, shootings spitballs at each another across the divide.
Critics of Obama’s motivations allege that he does not pass the “kishkes” question; that his commitment to Israel’s security, such as it may be, is based a political imperatives or strategic demands, rather than a personal commitment to the idea of the Jewish state. To many others, these criticisms don’t hold water.
But what of Netanyahu? What on earth is he thinking, deliberately provoking his country’s most important international ally by inserting himself squarely into a constitutional tight spot, pitting the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government against each other? Especially when Israel’s own intelligence service, the Mossad, has made clear that it is in Israel’s interest to allow negotiations with Iran to proceed, rather than to undermine them with additional immediate sanctions.
We are driven to ask, does Netanyahu know something we don’t? Does he know something the Mossad does not? Or is he driven merely by the hawkish demands of his domestic political constituency?
And why does he think that picking a fight – a very public, nasty and juvenile fight – with the president who was reelected with the support of 70 percent of American Jewish voters, would be a wise strategic or ideological move?
Greater minds can dissect the realpolitik motivations of these two strong figures. Wise figures in the think tanks of Washington and Tel Aviv are dissecting the nuance and nonsense the two leaders have displayed recently.
From where we sit, however, their behavior simply looks like they are putting their immature dislike for each other as individuals ahead of the interests of their countries. And, there is Speaker Boehner, ready to take political advantage.
Barrels of ink are being spilled this week on this topic, with the best minds of our generation advising both these men how to proceed. Our advice is simple, but it should be said: Just grow up.