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Cracks in the alliance: Is there finally daylight between Israel and the US?

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But his ideological worldview also accords with his defence minister's.  

It is hardly the first time Netanyahu has picked a fight over the peace process. In Obama's first term, he waged a war of attrition over US demands for a settlement freeze -- and won. He even dared publicly to back the president's Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 elections.  

In unusually frank references to Netanyahu in his new memoir, Robert Gates, Obama's defence secretary until 2011, recalls only disdain for the Israeli prime minister, even admitting that at one point he tried to get him barred from the White House. He writes: "I was offended by his glibness and his criticism of US policy -- not to mention his arrogance and outlandish ambition." He also calls Netanyahu an "ungrateful" ally and a "danger to Israel."  

But the problem runs deeper still. Just too much bad blood has built up between these two allies during Netanyahu's term. The feud is not only over Israel's conflict with the Palestinians but on the related matter of US handling of what Israel considers its strategic environment in the wake of the Arab Spring.  

Netanyahu is angry that the US has not taken a more decisive hand in shoring up Israeli interests in Egypt and Syria, and near-apoplectic at what he sees as a cave-in on Iran and what Israel claims is its ambition to build a nuclear weapon.  

He appears ready to repay the White House in kind, rousing pro-Israel lobby groups in Washington to retaliate on almost-home turf, in Congress, through initiatives such as a bill threatening to step up sanctions against Iran, subverting Obama's diplomatic efforts.  

Aaron David Miller, a veteran US Middle East peace negotiator, recently described the Israeli-US relationship as "too big to fail." For the moment that is undoubtedly true.  

But in his New Yorker interview, Obama warned: "The old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, What's next?"  

That warning is a double-edged sword. It is doubtless directed chiefly against those, like Iran and Syria, that are seen as threatening western interests in the Middle East. But Israel is no less a part of the "old order," and if it continues to cramp US efforts to respond effectively in a changing region it will severely test the alliance.  

It looks as if the cracks between Israel and the US are only going to grow deeper and wider.    

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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