The whole world looks forward to daylight, except when it concerns the U.S.-Israel relationship. There, we have grown accustomed to the refrain that “there is no daylight” between the United States and Israel as the metaphor for the rock-solid relationship between the two countries. So, when daylight starts to appear between the public pronouncements and positions of the two countries, we pay attention.
The reason for that is clear: Daylight implies that the two countries’ policies are not in synch. And with the United States as the chief guarantor of Israel’s security, that’s cause for concern.
The failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks last month takes the spotlight off that conflict for now. But what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gains from being able to put the focus back on Iran he may lose in the uncertainty of daylight. For example, the two countries are clearly not in synch on Israeli-Palestinian issues, and they also view the tensions between Ukraine and Russia differently. In the latter case, the U.S. is a strong defender of Ukraine in the face of Russian provocations and its annexation of Crimea, taking the lead in voicing Western condemnation of Russia’s activities. Israel, on the other hand, with a growing relationship with Moscow bolstered by the ties of hundreds of thousands of Russian Israeli olim [immigrants], has declined to join Western denunciations.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t agreement on other important ongoing political, strategic and security concerns. And it doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant interests and ties between the U.S. and Israel that hold them very close together. But it’s the differences that, over time, could push the two countries further apart.
The existing differences probably won’t affect overall U.S.-Israel relations, or even foreign aid considerations. But they may allow the Obama administration a little more latitude in its dealings with Iran and its nuclear program, leaving Israel a little more vulnerable than we all would like.
None of this is new, of course. Israel has made it clear that it views Iran’s nuclear ambitions as an existential threat, while the U.S. sees it as a strategic concern. But more and more, the break of daylight in Israeli-U.S. relations has been laid bare for all to see. Until now, the perceived differences appeared as merely a clash between Netanyahu and Obama and their governments. But what happens now, when it seems to have gone beyond that?