Gali Tibbon / Courtesy Reuters U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013.

Still Going Strong

After the Iran Deal, the United States and Israel Will Cooperate, Not Clash

Most depictions of how Israel sees the recent nuclear accord with Iran are consistently shallow. When explaining what the deal means for Israel, Western analysts and journalists tend to focus on the differences between close political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounced it as a “historic mistake,” and the Israeli security establishment (that is, serving and retired officials from the military and intelligence agencies), which is generally more tolerant of the deal. But it is misleading to think of Israeli policymaking just as a tug of war between those two camps, because disagreements between civilian and security leaders are normal, and because the public rhetoric on which such assumptions rest doesn’t allow for a consideration of wider trends and changes. Such a view leads to needlessly alarmist predictions about a coming split between Israel and the United States. 

The tendency of Western, and particularly American, observers to describe Israel in one-dimensional terms, however, is not new. U.S. commentators have long viewed the country and the region through a prism of American politics and priorities. They assume that recent electoral and coalition politics in Israel are about Iran -- which is certainly on the minds of American foreign policy specialists and journalists -- when they have actually been more about domestic politicking and crude power struggles. Such assumptions miss the deeper processes at work in Israeli foreign and security policymaking, which suggest that U.S.-Israeli relations are not in grave danger since there are still, in fact, enough common policy concerns keeping the two countries together. Those include maintaining strict sanctions on Iran during negotiations and ensuring close ties with Egypt in the post–Hosni Mubarak era.


In Israel, military and security officials have long played an important role in the civilian decision-making process: an old quip is that the Defense Ministry makes foreign policy while the Foreign Ministry sells it. That is, in part, related to the circumstances of

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