Can you really blame Benjamin Netanyahu from bailing on President Obama’s nuclear security summit? Look at it from his point of view: you govern one of the only undeclared nuclear powers, which for decades has declared itself disinterested in joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Meanwhile, here’s your one indispensable global ally places nuclear nonproliferation at the centerpiece of its agenda. It calls a conference that India and Pakistan — two of the other three non-NPT nuclear powers — will attend. But neither India or Pakistan are likely to face the singular scorn of Arab leaders who’ll want to call attention and opprobrium to their nuclear program. You’re screwed here.
Notice I am not condoning either Netanyahu’s behavior or Israel’s nuclear weapons program, the latter of which is a Very Bad Thing. I’m just saying I understand.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is screwed even further by his decision not to attend. If he’s trying to persuade Obama not to present a U.S. Mideast peace plan, denying him cooperation on the disarmament agenda is not in his interest. Jim Jones and Denis McDonough signaled in this morning’s press gaggle that they’re willing to give Netanyahu slack on this one. But that just amounts to essentially them doing Israel a favor, giving them chits to cash in later.