(image by Politico)
On the one side there are the two renowned professors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. On the other, the towering international intellectual Noam Chomsky.
It's all about whether the dog wags the tail or the tail wags the dog.
SIX YEARS ago the two professors shocked the US (and Israel) when they published a book, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," in which they asserted that the foreign policy of the United States of America, at least in the Middle East, is practically controlled by the State of Israel.
To paraphrase their analysis, Washington DC is in effect an Israeli colony. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are Israeli occupied territories, much like Ramallah and Nablus.
This is diametrically opposed to the assertion of Noam Chomsky that Israel is a US pawn, used by American imperialism as an instrument to promote its interests.
(I commented at the time that both sides were right, and that this is a unique dog-tail relationship. I even quoted the old Jewish joke about the rabbi who tells a plaintiff that he is right, and then says the same to the defendant. "But they can't both be right!" remonstrates his wife. "You are right, too!" he answers.)
INTELLECTUAL THEORIES can seldom be put to a laboratory test. But this one can.
It is happening now. Between Israel and the US a crisis has developed, and it has come into the open.
It's about the putative Iranian nuclear bomb. President Barack Obama is determined to avert a military showdown. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is determined to prevent a compromise.
For Netanyahu, the Iranian nuclear effort has become a defining issue, even an obsession. He talks about it incessantly. He has declared that it is an "existential" threat to Israel, that it poses the possibility of a second Holocaust. Last year he made an exhibition of himself at the UN General Assembly meeting with his childish drawing of the bomb.
Cynics say that this is only a trick, a successful gimmick to divert the world's attention away from the Palestinian issue. And indeed, for years now the Israeli policy of occupation and settlements has has been advancing quietly, away from the limelight.
But in politics, one gimmick can serve several purposes at once. Netanyahu is serious about the Iranian bomb. The proof: on this issue he is ready to do something that no Israeli prime minister has ever dared to do before: endanger Israeli-American relations.
This is a momentous decision. Israel is dependent on the US in almost every respect. The US pays Israel a yearly tribute of at least three billion dollars, and in fact much more. It gives us state of the art military equipment. Its veto protects us from UN Security Council censure, whatever we do.
We have no other unconditional friend in the world, except, perhaps, the Fiji Islands.
If there is one thing on which practically all Israelis agree, it is this subject. A break with the US is unthinkable. The US-Israeli relationship is, to use a Hebrew expression much loved by Netanyahu, "the rock of our existence."
So what does he think he is doing?