Whatever one may think about Netanyahu’s repression of Palestinians, his exploitation of international tensions, or his willingness to sacrifice Israeli democracy, Netanyahu is right about one thing: there are differences between “Israel” (as personified by him) and the U.S.
Netanyahu wants the U.S. to destroy the one country left in the Mideast that stands up to Israeli right wing aspirations to 1) seize back whatever land some long-dead group of Jews might temporarily have occupied at some point in the far distant past and to 2) stand preeminent as the sole nuclear power in the Mideast. It is Tehran’s very public insistence that these two core positions of the Israeli right are morally wrong that puts Iran in Netanyahu’s crosshairs. The Israeli right sees ethnic cleansing, territorial expansion, and military superiority as the unique rights of Israel. Tehran offers a clear alternative point of view and, as such, stands as the symbol legitimizing opposition to Israeli right wing goals.
U.S. national interests stand in stark contrast to the goals of the Israeli right wing. A self-defeating, decade-long orgy of violence against a wide variety of politically active Muslim actors has left the U.S. with vast losses of blood and treasure, weakened Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, a radicalized political culture, a trashed economy, and a ruined international reputation: a new war of aggression is the last thing the American people need.
Rather, U.S. national security would be consolidated by an enduring Central Asian political settlement that would undercut violence, encourage economic growth, and create stable societies run by regimes that see peaceful, democratic, cooperative behavior as in their interests. That outcome will require the willing cooperation of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and probably Iraq and Turkey as well.
Overlapping the Central Asian scene is the Mideastern scene, where U.S. interests call for the same broad progress toward stability plus egalitarian growth and a combination of both national independence and individual rights. Crucially, Iran is the only key player central to both scenes, both because of its close ties to post-U.S. occupation Iraq and because it will remain a player in the Mideast as long as Israel refuses to grant independence to Palestine.
So Netanyahu is correct that fundamental differences of opinion exist between (the right wing rulers of) Israel and the (people of the) United States. Where the Israeli right sees the destruction of Iran as in its interest, the U.S. needs to find a way to work with Iran. Where the Israeli right wants to destroy Palestinians and expand into Lebanon and Syria, the U.S. needs an Arab world free to focus not on resisting Israel but on improving its own governance and economic circumstances. We Americans should not be discussing whether or not to let Netanyahu push us into a war against Iran so much as we should be discussing whether or not to continue supporting a country that elects such men as rulers.