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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Why Bibi and Vlad Get Along

Why Bibi and Vlad Get Along

by Paul R. Pillar
In a recent article on Israel’s foreign relations, Robert Danin observes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin “clearly enjoy a better relationship with each other than either does with U.S. President Barack Obama.” The Russian-Israeli relationship has indeed been smooth to cordial in recent years, at the level of top leaders as well as more generally. Cordiality at the top tends to get explained in terms of personalities and the inclinations of individual leaders. This certainly has been true of much critical commentary in the United States about how President Obama has conducted U.S. relations with Israel. But better and more complete explanations take account of past policies of the states concerned toward each other, domestic political expectations about what the foreign relationships involved ought to look like, and how those expectations relate to actual conflicts or commonality of interests. Ultimately it is those interests, more than the attributes of the leaders, that determine the tone of relations and what we observe when leaders meet.
The U.S.-Israeli relationship carries a very strong expectation, especially within domestic U.S. politics, that the relationship is and ought to be one of strong and unshakable friendship. Any apparent deviation from that expectation is treated as if it were a serious problem. Such consternation loses sight of the continued and extremely generous U.S. financial and diplomatic support to Israel. It also loses sight of the policies of the Netanyahu government that have been far removed from strong friendship. Such policies have included efforts to undermine important U.S. foreign policy initiatives (most notably negotiation of the agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program) and practices that run directly counter to the objective that the United States shares with many others of achieving a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The tone of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and of meetings between the two countries’ leaders, reflects conflicting interests, at least given how the current Israeli leadership defines its interests.

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