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Trouble in US-Israeli relations is real, but is misrepresented in the press accounts. No-one—really, no-one—cares about the Palestinians. The tiff centers on Israel’s plans to attack Iran. And Obama may be in more trouble than Netanyahu.

This week’s Spengler essay at Asia Times Online digs into the story behind the story.

The chess-masters of Tehran have played a single combination for the past five years: threaten America’s flanks in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to gain control of the center of the board, that is, by pushing on with a nuclear program that many suspect is designed to acquire nuclear weapons.
[the “many suspect” was added by an editor—I have requested its removal].

Iran will succeed, unless another player kicks over the chessboard. Israeli officials report that American officials are visiting Jerusalem - including Vice President Joseph Biden last week - to warn Israel against launching an attack on Iran. “They’re not talking about the Palestinians, they’re only talking about Iran,” commented the head of one Israeli political party.

That explains the exceptionally harsh, even adversarial tone that Washington has taken towards Israel, supposedly in response to last week’s go-ahead for 1,600 apartments in East Jerusalem, but evidently in anticipation of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Reuters quoted an unnamed American official warning that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position was “perilous” because of alleged divisions in his government over negotiating with the Palestinians. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s March 12 statement seemed disproportionate that the East Jerusalem construction was “a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip”. And the Israeli news site, which frequently carries intelligence community leaks, reports that Washington is threatening to withhold weapons from the Israelis.

Considering that Obama faces congressional elections in five months and well may lose control of both houses, the lady may protest too much. Obama may be in a lot more trouble than Netanyahu.

The Obama administration’s shrill tone towards Israel reflects its domestic political weakness as much as its strategic problems. According to a March 7 poll by The Israel Project, Americans take the Israeli side against the Palestinians by a margin of 57% to 7%, with the rest neutral. A Gallup Poll released February 28 gives the margin at 63% to 15%, with 23% neutral. Only 30% of respondents told Gallup that they expect a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states.

More to the point, 60% of respondents in a March 2 Fox News poll said they believed force would be required to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, while only 25% believe that diplomacy and sanctions will work. Fifty-one percent of Democrats and 75% of Republicans polled favored the use of force. Obama’s job approval for handling Iran was at only 41%, with 42% disapproving.
An Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would polarize American opinion. And if the Obama administration attempted to punish Israel for doing what most Americans seemingly want to do in any event, the balance of American sentiment - if available polling data are any guide - would shift away from Obama and to Israel. Obama’s party would pay at the polls in November.



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