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The Daily Tar Heel
View from the Hill

Barack and Bibi reconnect after a year apart

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (his friends call him “Bibi”) met last Tuesday for the first time in more than a year to discuss the steps moving forward from tensions over the Iran nuclear agreement.

Hot topics included the potential increase of US military and financial aid to alleviate Israeli concerns towards Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their mutual concerns about the Islamic State in Syria.

Robert Reardon, assistant professor of international relations at N.C. State University, said this meeting was likely a strategic move by the leaders to indicate that the alliance between America and Israel is secure.

“They’re just trying to signal that the alliance is sound and that there’s going to be an effective working relationship over the next year or so that Obama is still in office,” he said. “I think Netanyahu wants to effectively signal that support for Israel is bipartisan in the United States, and he doesn’t want to seem like he’s tying all of his fortunes to the Republican Party.”

“I’m not sure that in the big scheme of things this meeting is all that important," he said.

But signaling a steady alliance between these two countries is progress, as the two leaders have not seen eye-to-eye since the Iran nuclear agreement.

“The aim of the meeting was to smooth over the relationship between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government in Israel,” said William Boettcher, professor of American foreign policy at N.C. State.

“I think there was a gap that emerged over the summer around the Iran deal. Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. Congress challenged that deal, and I think both sides saw the need to repair this disagreement.”

Boettcher said both Obama and Netanyahu approached the meeting pragmatically, with each side sacrificing to reach a compromise. Where Netanyahu ceased to further criticize the Iran deal this visit, Obama discussed reevaluating Israel’s security goals and providing more aid.

But personal differences between Obama and Netanyahu ensure that tensions will always simmer just below their surface-level cooperation.

“I don’t expect that on a personal level Netanyahu and Obama are ever going to get along,” Reardon said. “I think they just have fundamentally different world views, and they have very negative images of each other.”

Reardon said while Netanyahu views Obama as a naïve and inexperienced actor in the international stage, Obama views Netanyahu as an overly hawkish and stubborn right-wing politician.

Netanyahu’s overtly political acts within U.S. domestic politics — such as his speech against the Iran nuclear deal before Congress — as well as numerous negative statements by Netanyahu’s inner circle, further deteriorated the alliance.

Boettcher foresees more tensions emerging between the two leaders in response to events that arise within the Middle East for the remaining duration of Obama’s presidency.

“I don’t think that it’s going to be smooth sailing from here on out in terms of the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, but I think it’s dealt with the latest spike in negative feeling between the two sides,” he said.

But the alliance will likely prevail despite personality clashes between Obama and Netanyahu, Boettcher said. 

“The United States and Israel are linked together by this enduring relationship, and I don’t think these personality disagreements or political concerns really undermine the overall relationship — although they do create a bit of a rocky path now and then.”

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