Sometimes the way the news is covered is more interesting than the news itself. The Israeli prime minister’s visit to the US this week was one such occasion.
If we were being rational about it, we would see his visit as unremarkable. Netanyahu has been many times before. He has addressed Congress before, done the same interviews, been applauded by the same people and warned about the same dangers. Never has a drum been so beaten as Bibi’s Iranian one.
Fair enough, many say: that’s his job. In that sense, the vast coverage means mission accomplished.
The difference this time – and what prompted the media circus – was President Obama declining to meet him at the White House.
This makes sense: Israelis vote in two weeks’ time and Mr Netanyahu is electioneering. Besides, it’s not that a face-to-face is overdue. They last met in the White House only six months ago and again seven months before that.
No other world leader has had such access. More poignant by far was US Secretary of State John Kerry’s absence. He was abroad, meeting Iran’s foreign minister, trying to thrash out a deal.
It was both convenient and symbolic, the diplomatic message unmistakeable. The US and other world powers would lift sanctions in return for a verifiable 10-year freeze on Iran’s nuclear programme.
It is classic carrot and stick, and of all the options stands the best chance of working. But for Netanyahu, this is one vegetable too many. He wants complete dismantlement of even the civilian infrastructure or nothing at all, and he wants increased sanctions in the meantime.
So both want to crack the same nut, but Bibi also wants to kill the squirrel and chainsaw the tree.
Add press attention to a public disagreement and an inflammatory visit with no joint photo opportunity to worry about and you get this week’s hullabaloo, when the gloves came off and both sides used the media and a major conference of Jewish leaders to put their points across.
Obama’s top security adviser fired the gun, telling the AIPAC conference that Netanyahu’s position was “neither realistic nor achievable,” while Obama dismissed the Israeli prime minister’s judgment before last year’s interim deal, which led to today’s activity freeze.
“Netanyahu made all sorts of claims,” Obama told Reuters news agency this week. “This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50billion relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true.”
It is no secret that the two men don’t get on, but rarely has such a disagreement on issues of state and security been aired in this manner.
For analysts, it is fascinating, but for those who care about Israel, it is disconcerting. Israel and the US should be in lockstep, not competition. The alliance should be unbreakable on every level.
Let’s see whether Israelis view their returning king to have done more to build that alliance, or destroy it.