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Why Israel's Netanyahu doesn't fully trust Obama on Iran

Part of the friction comes from Obama making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority early on, putting off Netanyahu's demands for urgent action on the Iran nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with President Barack Obama during their meeting, on March 5, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Despite declarations of a strong alliance between the US and Israel at this year's AIPAC conference, it hasn’t eliminated the bad blood simmering not far below the surface of meetings between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past three years.

This week's installment – focused almost entirely on Iran rather than the Palestinian conflict – provided some jabs: In an address Sunday, Obama criticized the saber-rattling of Israeli leaders against Iran as counterproductive, while Mr. Netanyahu on Monday took pains to assert Israel’s right to decide on its own how to defend itself.  

While the clashes have ranged from issues of personality, to tactics on the peace process, to protocol snubs, there seems to be a consensus among Israeli observers that tension is primarily rooted in a clash of political outlook. It may not be in Netanyahu’s conservative DNA to have stable ties with a liberal like Obama.

"If he were in the US, Benjamin Netanyahu would serve as a Republican senator," says Shimon Shiffer, a political commentator for the daily Yediot Ahronot newspaper. "[Netanyahu] would be attached to Newt Gingrich even if there was no Sheldon Adelson," the American Jewish businessman who backs both politicians.

Friction from the beginning

The two leaders were elected within months of each other at the end of 2008 and early 2009; there was friction almost immediately.


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