I love the expression "cheese off," which I read in Dan Drezner's very smart analysis of recent Israeli political behavior, written partially in reaction to my Robert-Gates-Doesn't-Like-Bibi piece yesterday. Drezner thinks through why Netanyahu might see no cost in perpetually alienating the Obama Administration:
I have no inside information about the Netanyahu regime's internal thinking, but I'd wager that it sounds something like this:
1) All else equal, we prefer an administration that's ideologically sympatico with us -- which, in the current moment, means neocon-friendly Republicans;
2) The likelihood that Obama will be re-elected in 2012 is diminishing by the day;
3) Through our strategy of bitching to the media about Obama, we have succeeded in getting every viable GOP contender for president to complain that Obama is "throwing Israel under the bus."
4) No U.S. administration, regardless of party, wants Iran to wipe Israel off the map.
5) Given (1), (2), (3) and (4), why on earth should we do anything differently?
Now, Goldberg is implying that there will be domestic repercussions in Israel for this -- see here for more. Maybe he's right. But based on the Israeli public's response to past dust-ups with the Obama administration, the Israeli leadership's short-term decision-making calculus seems pretty accurate. As for the long-term, well, you know that Keynes saying....
I would pick a fight mainly with his fourth argument: "No U.S. Administration, regardless of party, wants Iran to wipe Israel off the map." I agree with this, of course. But the question is not how a President feels, but what a President would do to stop Iran from gaining the weapons it needs to wipe Israel off said map. I'm in the camp of people who believe that Obama is fully capable, even ready, to confront Iran with military force if the situation demands it. I know I'm in a minority in this belief -- for instance, many of the people around Netanyahu doubt this, which, naturally, makes them doubt his toughness.
But, given the fact that Obama is president until at least January, 2013, and that Iran may reach the nuclear threshold before then, you might think that Netanyahu wouldn't want the President of the United States to be perpetually pissed off at him. Instead, you would think Netanyahu would try to develop a more positive relationship with the man he wants to see confront Iran. This is among the reason why I've always been flummoxed by Netanyahu's behavior toward this president.