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Did Netanyahu Just Kill Washington’s ‘Pro-Israel’ Consensus?

The most important thing to know about the Israeli government’s decision to ban two Democratic House members, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from entering Israel and its occupied Palestinian territories is that it is not about them. That is why it doesn’t matter that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently reversed himself and agreed to let Tlaib in on “humanitarian” grounds; it wouldn’t even matter if he reversed himself on Omar. Again, it is not about them. It is about sticking it to the Democrats and lending a friendly hand to a Republican president it wants to see reelected. Nor is this the first time that Israel has blatantly demonstrated its clear preference for right-wing Republicans over Democrats.

In fact, as unprecedented (and even bizarre) as this particular action is, it pales in comparison to actions Israel took during the Obama administration. This is worth noting, as it demonstrates that the latest move is not merely an effort to curry favor with an incumbent president but is part of a longer-term policy of supporting Republicans even when the Democrats are in power.

No, far more egregious was the Israeli government’s effort (ultimately successful) to destroy Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Although successive Israeli governments had declared that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb was their top foreign policy goal, the Netanyahu government opposed the American effort to do just that with all the power it could command. Why? Because Israel is in fact less concerned about stopping Iran from getting nukes than it is about toppling the Iranian regime, which it believes can only be achieved through war, a course it has repeatedly pushed on Washington. From the Israeli point of view, Iran will always pose an “existential” threat to Israel until it installs a regime, like the shah’s, that will defer to it.

Working through AIPAC, Israel quickly lined up the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate to oppose the deal. Not only that, the Israelis and their friends tried to enlist the Iranian hard-liners in their cause! Senator Tom Cotton and 46 of his GOP colleagues actually wrote to the Iranian government warning it not to sign a deal with Obama because they, the Republicans, would renege on the deal’s terms the minute they had the opportunity. (That is, of course, what happened.) The Cotton letter, engineered by a foreign government and its advocates in Washington, may or may not have been illegal. But it was certainly unprecedented, as if Republicans who opposed John F. Kennedy’s nuclear test ban treaty in the early 1960s had written to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and told him not to sign it because they would repudiate the treaty when they came to power. Imagine!

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