(MENAFN- Asia Times) Late last month, US President Joe Biden wandered into the thicket of domestic Israeli politics, criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for trying to transfer legal powers from the country's independent Supreme Court to the its legislature.
Netanyahu, facing public protests over the effort,
struck back and told Biden, in so many words, to mind his own business.
The open display of hostility reflected tensions beyond Biden's apparent concerns about Israeli democracy. Rather, the clash stems from resentment over Netanyahu's long-standing opposition to a signature foreign-policy initiative dating back to president Barack Obama's term in office: the effort to cut a deal with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program.
That Biden took time out to criticize Netanyahu publicly also reflected shrinkage of American influence in the Middle East. After all, there are other geopolitical fish to fry beyond the moribund Iran nuclear accord.
For instance, there's the willingness of Saudi Arabia, once a reliable US ally, to sidle up to China, increasingly designated as America's top strategic geopolitical rival.
Beijing debuted its newly found Middle East influence by mediating an effort by the Saudis and Iran to ease their fierce, longtime regional rivalry.
There's also Iran's effort to woo Russia into a quasi-alliance by supplying Moscow with drones to use in its war on Ukraine. Biden has provided billions of dollars in military aid to Kiev yet can't find ways to limit military help from Tehran to Moscow. For that matter, the US seems powerless to stop India, nominally a friendly democracy, from undermining Western sanctions on Russia by increasing its own trade with Moscow.
Meanwhile Russia, all but eliminated from Middle East influence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has regained a strategic foothold in Syria after helping dictator Bashir al-Assad put down an Arab Spring–influenced uprising.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, American hopes that some remnant of the hopeful Arab Spring would survive died with a new dictatorship in Tunisia and a military struggle for power in Sudan. Egypt, long a reliable, if autocratic, ward of Washington, suddenly decided to supply Russia with rockets. Washington persuaded Cairo not to go ahead, but evidently Egypt is chafing at being a Washington client.
In short, the US is losing its grip on a region where it almost monopolized influence for much of the past-quarter century, since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But somehow, Biden is mostly concerned about the give and take of Israel's notoriously combative internal politics.
To recap: Four months of political protests against Netanyahu's so-called judicial reforms have roiled Israel. Not incidentally, Netanyahu's effort to alter the balance between the Supreme Court and the legislature would make it possible for him to evade prosecution for long-standing charges of
Biden weighed in, uninvited.“They cannot continue down this road,” he said of the reform proposal.“I hope he walks away from it.”
Netanyahu struck back and told Biden to mind his own business.“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he said.
The resentment lingers over Netanyahu's open opposition starting in 2015 to the Iran accord. Biden, who sometimes appears to drift into a geriatric stupor, has a long memory of Netanyahu's opposition.
When it was announced, Biden called the nuclear accord“a good deal, first and foremost, for the United States. It's a good deal for the world, the region, and it's a good deal for Israel.... I firmly believe it will make us and Israel safer, not weaker.”
Other Obama administration officials who now work for Biden also had directly criticized Netanyahu – for instance Susan Rice, Biden's chief domestic policy aide who was Obama's national security adviser, and John Kerry, formerly Obama's secretary of state, who is currently Biden's chef climate envoy. Under Obama, Kerry said that Netanyahu's“judgment ... just may not be correct.”
Netanyahu fired back quickly. He accepted an invitation from Republicans to address the US Congress and make his case against the Iran project. Republican leaders arranged his visit without clearing it with Obama.“This is a bad deal – a very bad deal,” Netanyahu told a joint session of Congress.“We're better off without it.”
Will Netanyahu, who earned a sixth term in office in elections last November, take his feud with Biden to Washington? In late April, he hosted Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in Jerusalem. The Republicans hold the majority in the US House of Representatives. McCarthy chided Biden for failing to invite Netanyahu to Washington and threatened to do so unilaterally as the Republicans had done in 2015.
Netanyahu hasn't responded to the implied invitation. A Biden official said no invitation from the While House is in the works.
Sooner or later, Biden and Netanyahu will have to reconcile. American influence in the region has declined markedly since the the early 1990s, when US troops invaded Iraq and drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Across the Middle East the US seemed on the verge of putting into place a“new world order” in the words of then-president George H W Bush.
Instead, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued almost without stop. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein bequeathed the Iraqis years of chaos and corruption. Democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt morphed into reestablished dictatorships, while Libya fell into civil war.
Sudan is suffering, caught within a violent struggle for power between two
military factions. Iran, in addition to continuing its low-intensity drive to create nuclear weapons, is putting down a pro-democracy movement led by women.
Saudi Arabia is distancing itself from Washington. Russia, seemingly displaced from the Middle East after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is refurbishing its Soviet-era naval base on Syria's Mediterranean coast. China placed its first naval bases inside the Persian Gulf and just outside it, too.
In this new regional world disorder, Biden and Netanyahu have no choice but to be“frenemies” – in a relationship in which the US-Israeli alliance overcomes lingering antipathy. And anyway, the Iran nuclear deal is dead. Like this:Like Loading...