Netanyahu in Jerusalem earlier this month. (Courtesy Reuters)
Speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem last week, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed outrage at the refusal of the Obama administration to set "red lines" for Iran's progress on its nuclear program: limits that, if crossed by the Iranians, would trigger U.S. military action against the Islamic Republic. Netanyahu suggested that by not taking a harder line, the United States might fail to persuade Israel to forego a unilateral strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. "Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," Netanyahu proclaimed.
But it is Americans who ought to be incensed with Netanyahu. By insisting on red lines and threatening to launch a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure, Netanyahu is trying to commit the United States to fighting a preventive war on Israel's behalf. In effect, he is demanding that the United States do far more to protect Israel's security than it does for any of its other allies. Netanyahu is also inserting himself into a U.S. presidential campaign to a degree unprecedented for the leader of a close American ally, implicitly echoing the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's charge that the Obama administration is "throwing Israel under the bus."
To fully appreciate the audacity of Netanyahu's demand for still more open-ended American security assurances, it is crucial to recognize just how committed to Israel's security the United States already is. Netanyahu's dissatisfaction notwithstanding, the United States provides Israel with extraordinary levels of economic, diplomatic, and especially military support.
GOT YOUR BACK
Consider first what the United States generally promises its other allies when they face threats. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty commits the United States to regard an armed attack against any NATO member as an armed attack against itself and to assist the victim, including with the use of armed force. But the treaty stipulates that