New reports about Donald Trump’s estrangement from his old friend and ally Benjamin Netanyahu are understandably being interpreted from the point of view of the long and tangled relationship between the United States and Israel, in which the appearance of smooth cooperation during the Trump administration hid numerous fissures, arguments, and misunderstandings. It’s clear that the abandonment most Republicans had long advocated of America’s traditional hands-off “honest broker” posture toward Israelis and Palestinians didn’t resolve all differences.
But from the perspective of understanding our former and perhaps future president, there is one terrifying new data point, as reported at Axios on Friday by Israeli journalist Barak Ravid:
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu were the closest of political allies during the four years they overlapped in office, at least in public. Not anymore. “I haven’t spoken to him since,” Trump said of the former Israeli prime minister. “F**k him.”
Trump repeatedly criticized Netanyahu during two interviews for my book, Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East. The final straw for Trump was when Netanyahu congratulated President-elect Biden for his election victory while Trump was still disputing the result.
“The first person that congratulated [Biden] was Bibi Netanyahu, the man that I did more for than any other person I dealt with … Bibi could have stayed quiet. He has made a terrible mistake.”
Actually, Bibi was far from the first head of state to acknowledge Biden’s victory. What really honked off Trump was that Netanyahu acknowledged the victory at all, particularly at a time when other Trump allies like Vladimir Putin and Jair Bolsonaro were still holding back. And Bibi’s betrayal wasn’t some back-channel feeler toward the soon-to-be-American president (a matter of self-preservation for any Israeli government, particularly one for whom close ties with Washington was a principal asset), but in a video the whole world could see! Notes Ravid:
For Bibi Netanyahu, before the ink was even dry, to do a message, and not only a message, to do a tape to Joe Biden talking about their great, great friendship — they didn’t have a friendship, because if they did, [the Obama administration] wouldn’t have done the Iran deal …
Other than exhibiting Trump’s reptilian reaction to any positive remarks about his enemies, his decision to cast Bibi into the outer darkness for raining on the “stop the steal” parade when it was just getting under way means the Big Lie litmus test Trump is demanding that every Republican politician in America pass (or at least not flunk) is actually global. Not just American pols but entire sovereign nations and their leaders will be adjudged by their subscription to his anti-democratic ravings. Presumably any foreign leader looking forward to the possibility of dealing with a Trump restoration in 2025 will have to be careful not to say anything negative about MAGA-world preparations for a more competent election coup, should one prove necessary after Election Day in 2024. Thus, the 45th president is building international support for the counterrevolution he continues to lead.