Bibi’s having a meltdown, it looks like. First General Martin Dempsey, and then Hillary have told him that the United States will deal with Iran’s nuclear program according to its own timetable, and in accordance with its own national interests. Now President Obama has apparently put off Bibi’s request for a meeting in September. A scheduling issue, the two won’t be in New York (for the UN General Assembly) at the same time. The White House calmy noted that top administration officials, like Hillary, will be available to meet with Bibi. This is big news in Israel, and sure to be used by Romney: trying to talk Israel out of starting a destructive war, or refusing the demand that America fight its war for it, will be portrayed as “throwing Israel under the bus.” Noam Sheizaf of the indispensable Israeli website 972 analyzes the faceoff here.
The sudden show of backbone from an American administration must come as a rude shock to Netanyahu, whose entire previous experience has taught him to think that when he says jump, the role of American leaders is simply to ask “How high?” But lo and behold, Obama isn’t doing that, and Bibi’s having a kind of diplomatic tantrum. The reader comments to the Times story were fascinating –an outpouring of resentment at what people feel is Netanyahu’s blatant interference in the US election.
One reason why Bibi might be inclined to overreach: the fawning reception he has previously received from the US Congress. Peter Beinart tells an interesting story about this in The Crisis of Zionism. When Bibi came to speak before the Congress, about two and half years ago, AIPAC was in town for its annual convention, including many major donors to congressional campaigns. Bibi was then in the midst of a confrontation with the administration over Israel’s expansion of settler colonies on the West Bank. Each congressman received one gallery pass for Bibi’s speech, and most gave it to their largest donor. So the gallery was AIPAC packed. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz orchestrated, giving hand signals to the Congresspeople about when to stand and applaud (at Netanyahu’s most belligerent lines). So between an AIPAC gallery, and Congress playing their role as toadies for AIPAC funders, Bibi clearly got a very exaggerated impression of how easily he can move America. More people are paying attention now. I think (and pray) that this time he’s in for a very unpleasant surprise.