Q: Isn’t the collapse of the relationship also on Obama?
A: Yes, at times the White House hasn’t managed the Netanyahu account well either, and on occasion it has made unrealistic demands on him. But: This is an unequal relationship. The U.S. is indispensable to Israel. Israel is not indispensable to the U.S. Most Israeli prime ministers have understood this formula and have made policy accordingly.
Q: What do you want Netanyahu to do, then? Sit at home and quietly wait for the world to collapse around him?
A: I don’t want him to treat Congress as a campaign stop, which is what he’s doing. I don’t want him to be played for a sucker by allowing one American political party to turn Israel into a weapon against the other American political party. And I don’t want him to turn the president of the United States into an open adversary.
Q: But if the president is going to strike a weak deal, one that sets Iran on the road to nuclear-weapons status, why shouldn’t he speak up?
A: He should absolutely speak up. He doesn’t have to speak up in an address before Congress. If he wants to lobby against the president, he could do so in ways that don’t alienate much of the American polity. Netanyahu has a prejudice against subtlety. This is one of his problems.
Q: It seems obvious that he’s giving the speech, no matter what. So what should he say?
A: It won’t be difficult for Netanyahu to make the case that the incipient nuclear deal—at least as we understand it from leaks—might be a weak one. I don’t like some of its features as well. The harder task for Netanyahu is to present a better alternative. He hasn’t done that yet.
Q: Is no deal better than this deal?
A: Perhaps. Again, we don’t know the exact parameters of this deal. But let’s imagine the following scenario: Netanyahu gives his speech and, two hours later, Obama calls him up:
Obama: “You know what, Bibi? You’re right. The only deal the Iranians are ready to accept is a terrible deal for us. So I’m pulling out of negotiations and I’m going to ask my friends in Congress to strengthen sanctions.”
Netanyahu: “I knew you’d come around to my view. And I accept your apology.”
Obama: “Well, you are a man of vast experience and perspicacity. I should have listened to you all along.”
The next day, the Iranian regime, realizing it has nothing left to lose, moves toward nuclear breakout. It fires up all of its centrifuges, and puts itself on a pathway to have a bomb within a year.
On the other hand, an agreement—even a weak agreement—may allow the West to buy itself 10 or 15 years, at least.
Q: Okay, but if Iran actually goes to breakout, wouldn’t someone bomb their facilities? Netanyahu has threatened to do so for a long time.
A: Yes, quite possibly. Netanyahu, American officials believe, has come quite close, only to be shut down by Obama, and also by some of his own generals. (This is one of the reasons he feels like a sucker and doesn't want to be suckered again.)