TEL AVIV — With relations between US and Israeli leaders plunging to an all-time low, US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appear to be employing a divide-and-conquer strategy to promote divergent agendas.
In the aftermath of a divisive election here, where Netanyahu's disparaging rhetoric against Arab voters prompted Obama to question the essence of Israeli democracy, both leaders are turning to parochial constituencies to promote seemingly dissonant world views.
From the prospect of a secure Israel and a viable Palestine co-existing side-by-side to this week's interim deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, Obama and Netanyahu are increasingly speaking past one another in attempts to sway allies and kindred political players to their respective policy goals.
After galvanizing support in Congress for additional sanctions on Iran, Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, is scheduled to arrive here to assuage Israeli concerns of steadfast support on Capitol Hill, if not from the White House.
Boehner's post-election visit — coined by local media here as a "victory lap" for Netanyahu — follows the March 3 end-run around Obama, when the Israeli leader exhorted a joint session of Congress against a "bad deal" with Iran.
"I think Netanyahu has given up on Obama and vice versa; Obama has given up on Netanyahu," said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on American-Israeli relations at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies here.
"Netanyahu is doing whatever he can to influence the negotiations," he said.
That included dispatching his minister for intelligence and national security adviser last week to appeal directly to British and French officials to plug loopholes in the emerging agreement.
Yuval Steinitz, Netanyahu's intelligence minister, conceded to Reuters last week that the P5+1 powers are heading toward a deal that allows Iran to retain its enrichment capacity to break out at a future date in a race to nuclear weapons.
"We think it's going to be a bad, insufficient deal. … It seems quite probable it will happen, unfortunately," he told the news agency in Paris.
But Netanyahu is not giving up. He aims to convince Congress and allies to ratchet up pressure on Tehran and does not see anything wrong with circumventing White House policy goals.
"We very much appreciate, and will take care to preserve, our alliance with the best of our friends, the United States. However, we will continue to work to prevent the agreement withy Iran; an agreement that endangers us, our neighbors and the world," Netanyahu said in a March 25 meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. , Netanyahu,
For his part, Obama aims to veto legislation contained in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 essentially granting Congress veto authority over of any deal concluded with Iran and the six world powers.
"If this bill is sent to the president, he will veto it," White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told the Jerusalem Post.
As for Netanyahu's pre-election pledges — since recanted — to oppose a two-state peace deal with the Palestinians, Obama is now speaking about evaluating other options, including withholding Washington's traditional veto at the UN National Security Council.
"We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn't happen during his prime ministership," Obama told the Huffington Post past last week. "And so that's why we've got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don't see a chaotic situation in the region."
US Jewish leaders are also citing a White House tactic of pitting opposing pro-Israel lobbies — the mainstream American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the left-leaning J Street — against one another.
Speaking last week at J Street's annual conference, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough blasted the nearly quarter-century Israeli occupation, something that would never have been uttered by a high-ranking administration official at an AIPAC event.
"An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state," McDonough said.
In a March 26 interview, Gilboa said Obama appears to be intent on whittling away at mainstream American Jewry's unquestioning support for Israeli policies as Netanyahu heads into his fourth term.
"Obama is trying to weaken AIPAC and increase the influence of J Street," he said. "He thinks that maybe promoting J Street will help … expand divisions within the US Jewish community."
Nevertheless, Obama sought to downplay tensions with Netanyahu. "I have a very businesslike relationship with the prime minister. I talk to him all the time," he said at a March 24 White House press conference.
He insisted that the American commitment to Israeli security would continue "unabated" despite deep divides on the Iranian file and Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
"I will continue to do whatever I need to do to make sure that our friends in Israel are safe. That's what I've done since I've been president, and that's not going to stop."
But given drastically divergent policy agendas and the bad blood between the leaders, experts here say it will be difficult to shield security cooperation from top-down -driven erosion.
"Security cooperation has obviously been institutionalized over the past decades; and the Obama White House has consistently said the US-Israel bond is unbreakable and unshakable," noted Yossi Shein, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University and Georgetown Universisty.
"But let's not forget that alongside security ties are common values. Once these common values are called into question, that leaves only security interests. … And in a region in flux, interests may change."
Oded Eran, a former Israeli diplomat to Washington and ambassador to Jordan, noted that a thaw in US relations with Iran could ultimately have an adverse effect on US-Israel security ties.
"I see the possibility that — unintentionally — an agreement with Iran and the new situation in the Middle East could indirectly influence the relations between Israel and the US" because increasing Iranian hegemony could jeopardize Israeli security," said Eran, now a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies.
Caroline Glick, a commentator at the Jerusalem Post, agreed that the US rapprochement with Iran could weaken the US-Israel partnership. But in a March 27 column, she accused the White House of intentionally seeking to erode bilateral bonds.
"Never before has Israel had to deal with such an openly hostile US administration.
"Indeed, until 2009, the very notion that a day would come when an American president would prefer an alliance with Khamenei's Iran to its traditional alliances with Israel and the Sunni Arab states was never even considered. But here we are."