Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel last week was rightly hailed as a catastrophebut not because of settlements. After a tense year in which Washington had failed to stop Prime Minister Benyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu from settling more occupied land, Biden had come to shore up the relationship. Instead, officials in Netanyahu's government caught both men off guard by announcing plans to build more in contested East Jerusalem. True, that was a snafu. But the real disaster was what it may cost Israel. Biden had come to offer not just friendship, but support (and protection) against IranIsrael's greatest bogeymanin exchange for a few concessions from Netanyahu. Instead, he got a finger in the eye. When President Barack Obama and Netanyahu took office last year, consensus opinion expected a confrontation between the United States and Israel. It was almost a no-brainerAmerica was moving left as Israel was moving right. Obama's grand design for a new, peaceful, and pro-American Middle East (featuring a new Palestinian state) stood in stark contrast to Netanyahu's long-held support for Israel's control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But Netanyahu thought that if he tacked between his rightwing coalitioncommitted to expanding settlements in the West Bank and moving more Jews into East Jerusalemand Obama's desire for peace talks, he could keep U.S. support against Iran and even start from scratch with the Palestinians. And until last week, Netanyahu seemed to pulling it off: he got indirect talks with the Palestinians in return for a limited and temporary settlement freeze that excludes East Jerusalem. His coalition survived intact. And his public popularity skyrocketed to 50 percent in Februarywhich Israelis knew only in the Ariel Sharon period (while Obama's approval ratings plummeted). Then Biden came to town. On the face of it, this was just about assuring Israelis, directly and in their own country, about America's love and support. It seemed like good politics in a tough election season back home, and Biden was a natural choice as messenger: alone in the high echelon of the Obama administration, the veepan old-line Zionisthas come to consider "Bibi" as a close personal friend over a three-decade acquaintance. If anybody could reach out to to Netanyau it was the former senator from Delaware. Biden's trip had a deeper motive, though. He was there to offer Israel a deal: we'll support you on Irankeeping "all options on the table"in return for Israeli flexibility in the West Bank. Obama would continue flogging sanctions relentlessly (he had made some of his own concessions to obtain sanctions support from allies) and refuse to discount the possibility of force. Or, in Biden's more diplomatic lingo during a speech at Tel Aviv University: "We are determined to keep the pressure on Iran so that it will change its course. And as we do, we will also be seeking to improve relations between the Israelis and Palestinians. They are connected indirectly, but there is a relationship."