The allies’ ties are at rock bottom after an Obama aide’s rebuke to the Israeli leader over his speech to Congress.

US President Obama listens as Israeli PM Netanyahu delivers a statement

Relations between the US and Israel have chilled further in a diplomatic crisis between the two nations.

Far from seeking to defuse tensions ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial visit to the US next week, the Obama administration has sharpened its criticism.

The President’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice rebuked the Israeli leader on Tuesday, calling his planned speech to the US Congress on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme “destructive”, while also questioning his judgement.

Mr Netanyahu responded by accusing the US and West of having “given up” on stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Obama shakes hands with Netanyahu in the Oval Office in March 2014

The iciness in relations is all the more remarkable given the traditional closeness between the two allies.

But it has been a long time coming.

The cause of the rift is a genuine disagreement on how best to handle a common enemy, Iran, and its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful civilian reasons, but has never been able to explain why it has in the past hidden vital parts of that programme.

People wave Israeli and US flags across from the UN in July 2014

Israel and the West suspect Tehran is seeking to build the bomb.

America, China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany have been locked for years in tortuous negotiations with Iran on the issue and recently appear to be moving closer to reaching a possible agreement.

The outlines of the deal are secret but are thought to propose allowing Iran to keep about 6,000 uranium centrifuges.

Centrifuges are used to spin the bomb-making isotopes out of uranium ore, the so-called enrichment process.

sraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu(L) and US House of Representatives Speaker Johh Boehner(R-OH), deliver remarks to the media inside the Rayburn Room at the US Capitol March 6, 2012

The Obama administration says the deal being considered may leave Iran with some enrichment capability, but will also contain it in a way that will be transparent and verifiable.

The alternative is Iran continuing to try to allegedly build the bomb in secret, they say.

That would require the possible use of military action by the US and Israel to try to destroy or at least delay Iran’s nuclear programme.

Mr Netanyahu sees things differently.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran cannot be allowed to keep any centrifuges, he says, and accuses America and its partners of being too lenient in their negotiations with Iran.

Many in the US Congress agree.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner invited the Israeli prime minister to address both houses on the issue this month, angering the Obama administration.

The plan was arranged without White House or State Department involvement and has been condemned as a breach of protocol by the administration.

Palestinian protesters run a way from tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during clashes following a protest against the near-by Jewish settlement of Qadomem, in the West Bank village of Kofr Qadom near Nablus

It comes after years of testy relations between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu.

Even close allies of Israel on Capitol Hill and in the pro-Israel lobby have questioned Mr Netanyahu’s judgement in pressing ahead with the speech.

His advisers say he is acting out of the deeply held belief that Iran is being allowed to move closer to building the bomb.

His critics say the only way to prevent that outcome is winning the support of the president he is currently alienating.