Runner-up Story of the Year: The Ties That Strain
Tue, 12/31/2013
President Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Getty Images
President Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Getty Images

You could feel the fabric fraying from Jerusalem to Pennsylvania Avenue. Thanks to the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the ties between the U.S. and Israel were under more strain in 2013 year than in any year in recent memory. As the Obama administration pursued negotiations with Iran in an attempt to defuse the Islamic republic’s nuclear intentions, Bibi Netanyahu cried foul — long and loud. A nuclear Iran is an “existential” threat to Israel, he said, and a dangerous prospect as well to moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia. He blasted the interim deal hammered out in Geneva as “a historic mistake.” And he put American Jews squarely in the middle of the fight at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, where he urged participants to lobby against their own country’s diplomatic position.

The yearlong strain over Iran seemed to give lie to the old saw that the strategic interests of the U.S. and Israel are always aligned. On Iran, at least, they weren’t, as most observers believe that it isn’t in America’s interests to launch a third war in the Middle East. Did Bibi overplay his hand and really damage U.S.-Israel relations? It’s hard to tell. But by year’s end, Netanyahu’s hard line on Iran, in advance of a final deal, was getting praise from an unlikely corner: New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In an early December column, Friedman, usually a staunch Netanyahu critic, praised the Israeli leader’s bad cop role (“Bibi crazy,” he termed it) as a much-needed counterweight to President Obama’s good cop role — Obama “cool,” as he put it. Maybe that’s where the U.S.-Israel relationship is these days — caught between crazy and cool.

Robert Goldblum