Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet at the White House in early November with President Barack Obama in an apparent bid to repair the unprecedented damage to U.S.-Israeli relations brought on by the prime minister’s offensive to derail the Iran nuclear deal.
The White House announced the visit on Friday, a day after Senate Democrats effectively ended Republican attempts to kill the nuclear accord in a humiliating diplomatic defeat for Netanyahu, who had led denunciations of Obama’s foremost foreign policy priority as a disaster that would bolster Iran’s power and allow it to secretly develop a nuclear arsenal that would be used to target Israel.
Obama defended the agreement as significantly boosting Israel’s security by preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Washington suggested a realization that having lost the fight, he has to stabilize the relationship so that he can shape a security assistance package that Obama is offering to bolster Israel against threats from Iran and its proxies, Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militia movement that dominates neighboring Lebanon.
Despite our well known differences on even some key issues, the bond between the United States and Israel when it comes to our security relationship is unshakable.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
The United States and Israel also share grave concerns that violence and chaos will worsen in the Middle East as the Islamic State and other Islamist groups press their fight against the Iran-supported government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. More than a year of U.S.-led air strikes has failed to end the Islamic State’s control of large parts of Iraq.
“Despite our well known differences on even some key issues, the bond between the United States and Israel when it comes to our security relationship is unshakable,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in announcing Netanyahu’s visit. He said the date for the visit hasn’t yet been set.
Some experts cautioned against expecting any major breakthroughs in ties between the United States and its closest Middle East ally, noting that they were already strained before the Iran nuclear deal by the brittle personal relationship between the Israeli leader and Obama and the collapse of an administration effort to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“Don’t expect transformations,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a policy institute, and retired veteran diplomat who served as a top adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations on the Middle East peace process. “This is the most dysfunctional relationship between an Israeli prime minister and an American president ever.”
At the same time, he said, both men understand that the tensions cannot be allowed to fester.
“Both Obama and Bibi are making what I would describe as a virtue out of a necessity,” Miller said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “This relationship is too important to be undermined.”
Earnest confirmed that the talks between the pair would include increased security cooperation. Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state, is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, virtually all of it military aid.
“We do think that this meeting between the president and the prime minister, and other meetings that will occur in the weeks and months ahead, will include a discussion about deepening the security cooperation between the United States and Israel,” he said.
In the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu repeatedly has rebuffed U.S. requests to hold discussions on stepped up security cooperation, intended to ease concerns that the agreement will strengthen Iran’s ability to aid groups hostile to Israel as well as Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations. Under the accord, Iran will be relieved of crippling international financial sanctions, gaining access to tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets that it could use to step up its assistance to Assad, Hezbollah and other groups.
$30 billion the amount of U.S. security assistance to Israel under a 10-year agreement due to expire in 2018
In an August speech in which he fiercely defended the nuclear accord, Obama said he was open to bolstering cooperation with Israel on missile defense, intelligence sharing and interdicting Iranian arms shipments.
Israel also has been reluctant to discuss at senior levels a replacement to a 10-year, $30 billion security assistance accord that Obama wants to conclude before he leaves office in January 2017.
Earnest said that he couldn’t think of another situation in which the United States and an ally have so vociferously and publicly disagreed. But he added that the fact Obama and Netanyahu are going to meet “reflects the commitment of leaders of both those countries to the strength of this relationship.”
The meeting also demonstrates that Obama believes the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is “critically important” and “something worth talking about and investing in,” said Earnest.
Both Obama and Bibi are making a virtue out of a necessity.
Aaron David Miller, retired diplomat
Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu when he visited the U.S. in March to blast the Iran nuclear accord in a speech to a joint session of Congress. At the time, the White House said that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, breached protocol by inviting Netanyahu to address lawmakers ahead of Israel’s March 17 elections.