This week, when Air Force One lands in Tel Aviv, the newly reelected American president and the Israeli prime minister with a new government will turn the page on a new chapter in their relationship. And they will discuss how to manage the strategic challenges we both face in ways that protect our respective interests.
Much has been made and said about the personal relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Some of it is even true: It has been far from tension-free, and is very much in need of a reboot. But I also think that too much has been said about it, as if the bilateral relationship could be reduced to their personal rapport -- as if the strategic dimension of the two countries' ties were either anecdotal or purely a function of personal chemistry.
We should leave aside some of that background noise and focus more on where the strategic relationship stands today, what challenges it faces, and how this visit can help overcome them.
First, it has been said before but bears repeating, for it is neither propaganda nor spin: Military and security cooperation between the two countries has never been stronger. That is a fact confirmed by both sides and witnessed in countless ways: intelligence sharing, joint military exercises, extraordinarily close consultation on questions like Iran and, of course, joint efforts on the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. That is far more important than whether the two leaders can be best friends.
Second, it is true that in some respects the two countries experience events in the Middle East somewhat differently. When Israelis look out their windows, virtually in any direction, what they see is far greater uncertainty, volatility, and even peril than ever before.
And so, it is only natural that, when the United States invests in negotiations with Iran, engages with the Muslim Brotherhood, supports democratic transitions, and urges progress in the peace process, some Israelis suspect it of misunderstanding the region or, worse, of naiveté. Yet my sense is that the president is anything but naïve. True, Israel lives in the region and we do not, and differences in outlook and different threat perceptions are inevitable byproducts of our respective locations.
But that doesn't necessarily translate into divergent strategic pursuits, nor should it. And a principal goal of this trip is to clarify that point. Take the issues one by one:
First, Iran. Both Obama and Netanyahu have made clear that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and that they will act -- militarily if necessary -- to prevent it. Both men mean what they say. The task at hand is to manage the nuances in their approach in a way that protects their countries' respective interests.