What is the future of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship?
President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office May 18, 2009.
November 23rd, 2012
01:46 PM ET

What is the future of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship?

By Jamie Crawford

Amid the flurry of diplomatic congratulations over the maneuvering that led to a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas this week, the dual readouts of the roles played by President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contained some interesting language.

A written statement detailing the telephone conversation between the two after an agreement was reached included the usual language of maintaining the U.S. commitment to Israeli security. But the White House also said that Obama "commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal – which the president recommended the prime minister to do."

Netanyahu's office released a statement that said he had "acceded" to Obama's recommendation to sign the deal and thanked the president for his support of Israel during the operation.

After a few years worth of headlines bemoaning the frosty relationship between the two, could a detente of sorts be in the offing? If so, would it give Obama additional leverage with Netanyahu as they move forward on even more complex problems like the Iranian nuclear crisis and the elusive search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

The answers are not so simple.

Netanyahu's relations with Obama emerge as hot political topic in Israel

"What you are seeing playing out now I think is an effort on the part of the president to put some currency back into the bank with regard to his relationship with Netanyahu," says Aaron David Miller, a long time U.S. negotiator on Middle East policy who is now with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

For Miller, Obama "made a virtue out of necessity" by repeatedly stressing Israel's right to self defense, and pushing every party involved to find a quick solution.

"Netanyahu and Obama have in my view one of the most dysfunctional relationships of any Israeli prime minister and American president," Miller says. "In large part because there is an absence of trust and confidence between the two."

Despite getting off to a rocky start with Netanyahu by pushing for a comprehensive freeze of Israeli settlements, Obama's vocal support for Netanyahu through the recent crisis and U.S. financial support for the "Iron Dome" anti-missile program, could pave the road for greater trust in the relationship, and more flexibility from Netanyahu when it comes to the disputed Iranian nuclear program.

"I think what it does is position [Obama] in a much better place to begin if there are opportunities to move forward," Miller said. "It creates an opportunity for him to ask Netanyahu to do some things in a much more credible way than he ever could in the past."

But will it give Obama greater leverage over Netanyahu on how the two countries approach Iran's nuclear program?

"I wouldn't say it increases leverage," said Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. What it does, Satloff said, is send a message to Iran and the region that the United States will stand by Israel in times of crisis.

No shortage of pressing issues for Obama's next term

More importantly, the very public support from the United States for Israel from the beginning of the Gaza crisis was necessary, analysts said, to avoid the optic of U.S. indifference for an important ally in a time of need.

"That was very good and positive I think in terms of impact on the Iran situation," Satloff says. Otherwise "it would have underscored a breach, the breach would have gotten broader, and it would have increased the likelihood of Israeli unilateral action on Iran at some point in the future."

Long time Middle East watchers said the strong support from the Obama administration will do more to set the tone of the relationship going forward, rather than giving one country the upper hand over the other.

"The fact that we are able to talk about security issues and reach desired outcomes together is positive," says Jon Alterman, who is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Our ability to make agreements and advance Israeli security lays the groundwork for future agreements on Israeli security. Good relationships make it easier to work together, but I don't think one side feels you owe me because I did this for you."

Regardless of how Obama and Netanyahu move forward together on the Iranian nuclear issue, the Israeli electorate could also have a say on how that approach unfolds with Israeli elections set for January 22.

Netanyahu "is going to make a judgment whether his interests are advanced or set back by a good relationship with Obama or a bad relationship with Obama," Alterman said. "Whether he is re-elected, what type of government emerges from that, what hind of mandate he feels he has - that's all unknown."

Fact Check: Did Obama say he wants 'daylight' between U.S., Israel?

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Filed under: Iran • Israel • Israel-Gaza 2012 • Obama
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