Does Obama Have An Israel Problem?

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I'm not quite sure what to make of the plea from Israeli commentators for President Obama's attention, but it has occurred to me that, given the geopolitical priorities of the moment, it might not be all that upsetting to members of the National Security Council -- or to President Obama -- that Israelis perceive that the President is giving them the short end of the stick -- and that Israel is vocally complaining about the slight via the public protests. 

My best of sense of Obama's instincts suggests that he has come to believe that the way to break out of the status quo on the Middle East is to change policy only slightly -- that's the pressure to freeze settlements -- but to change perception significantly -- which involves a buy-in from the Arab world, which itself is predicated on the fabled and over broadly characterized "Arab Street" having been convinced that America is truly more neutral than it has seemed.

To be sure -- Obama remains strongly pro-Israel. It's just that this perception imbalance was doing harm to American interests and was serving as an excuse for Arab and Middle Eastern governments to dawdle or gain leverage on important questions involving Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

At the same time, it's clear that the Obama administration has never had much regard for Benjamin Netanyahu, so perhaps it underestimated the degree to which the Israeli public would identify with Netanyahu's worldview.

The downside: public protest might obviate the Israeli government's tacit willingness to cooperate with the United States on Iran policy. Even though Israel claims it needs no permission to attack Iran, it probably would seek assurances from the United States. This -- again -- tacit cooperation is why our ballistic missile defend people spend so much time working with the Israeli Defense Forces. I'm betting that the US believes that Israel won't attack Iran unless the intelligence is rock solid -- intelligence that would be shared with the US and thus just as likely to trigger a similar response from our government.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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