The Israel That Can Say “No”

Why Netanyahu Has Less Need for the United States

People hold a rope with Israeli national flags attached to it during the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015. Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

According to conventional wisdom, the deterioration of U.S.-Israeli relations is the result of personal animosity between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. But ill-will is more of a symptom than a cause. In fact, the increased friction reflects a new Israeli grand strategy. Rather than seeking to minimize differences with the United States over Iran and Palestine, as previous Israeli governments had done, Netanyahu has worked to diversify Israel’s international partnerships, cultivating new friends—from India to China to Saudi Arabia—so that Israel is less dependent on the United States.

When in danger, small countries with powerful allies usually draw closer to their friends. Seeking U.S. help to fend off Soviet territorial claims, Turkey sent troops to Korea in 1950 to support the anti-communist cause. Decades later, fearing a Russian invasion after the Rose Revolution in 2003, Georgia named one of the main avenues in its capital after George W. Bush and deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

One might have expected that, as Iran inched closer to the nuclear threshold, Israel would have followed Georgia’s example, perhaps naming a street in Tel Aviv after Obama or, at the very least, heeding the recommendation of many Israeli national security elites who urged cooperation with the United States on the Iran nuclear deal. Rather than accommodating Washington, however, Netanyahu thumbed his nose at Obama in the United Nations, Congress, and other venues.

With the United States both more demanding and less useful than before, Israel has focused on its other partners instead.

The nuclear deal with Iran is not the only point of disagreement. Over the past several years, Israel has contradicted U.S. policy at many other turns. For example, it eagerly joined the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank against the United States’ wishes. And it abstained on a crucial UN vote condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which Washington backed. With Netanyahu’s new grand strategy, these frictions are likely to

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