Dennis Ross may not have a 'bat phone,' but a direct line - certainly
Despite inquiries sent and insults received, former Middle East affairs advisor to President Obama and his bosses continue to refuse to respond to his direct links to the White House.
One month ago, I revealed the fact that Dennis Ross, the former Middle East affairs advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama, continues to advise the White House, despite having stepped down from his position. I also revealed that during his last visit to Israel, Ross, supposedly on a private trip, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his close advisor Yitzhak Molho.
Before publishing the piece, I sent Ross an email with a list of questions about the nature of his links with the White House, but I received no answer. Several days later, I published here on the blog that the White House had installed a secure telephone line in Ross' office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in order to carry on classified conversations with him.
In the same post, I related that the State Department had confirmed Ross' continued "association" with the White House, as an unpaid external advisor.
This time, the response from Ross and his associates at the Institute and in the American media were not long in coming. The heads of the Washington Institute decided to contact my editor and complain about me, using decidedly undiplomatic language. Out of respect, I will refrain from quoting them. Suffice to say that the curses and accusations used by the directors of one of Washington's most prominent policy institutes are not fit for print.
At the same time, Ross and his superiors at the Washington Institute contacted the White House and the State Department, asking them to issue a response regarding the "red phone." Two Jewish-American journalists received phone calls from senior government officials regarding the matter – Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.
Kampeas accurately reported that a senior government official confirmed to him that Ross continues to serve as an external advisor to the Obama administration, but denied that there is a "secure line" at the Washington Institute.
Goldberg, who only several months ago railed against the ad campaign by Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption - which, in its attempt to lure former Israelis back home, hinted that Jewish American are not good enough Jews - did not hesitate to display arrogance and disregard toward the Israeli press. "Like many stories in the Israeli press, this one was hard to understand," Goldberg wrote, quoting the State Department spokesperson who denied the existence of the phone.
There is a certain group of Jewish-Americans who love Israel, but not necessary Israelis. Even if they don't say so publicly, they see Israelis as ignorant Levantines. In their eyes, the Israeli media is inferior to the holy writs published every day by American newspapers. By the way, there are people in Prime Minister Netanyahu's entourage who share this attitude.
Last week, a colleague of mine, Haaretz reporter Natasha Mozgovaya, met with Dennis Ross in his office at the Washington Institute. After failing to respond to my inquiries, he used the meeting as an opportunity to impugn me. "I don't have any secret telephone to the White House. That was an idiotic story. They don't install secret lines at public institutions like this," he told her.
Meanwhile, he tried to sweep under the rug the fact that he continues to advise the president. "They ask me questions. I give them my opinion. It's no big shock," he said.
I have never been to Ross' office at the institute. I admit I have never seen the phone with my own eyes. The information about the "secure line" I received from two very reliable sources, one of whom claimed to have seen it. Perhaps my sources misled me. Maybe Ross and his superiors are right and I don't have my facts right.
The bottom line is that, despite the fact that Ross is a "private citizen" today, he continues to be deeply involved in formulating the administration's policy toward the Middle East. Despite what he claims, he does not just answer questions. He still pulls strings, attends high-level meetings and discussions, preserves a channel of communication with Netanyahu and his aides and gives interviews to the press holding a list of the Obama administration's talking points.
Perhaps Dennis Ross really does not have a secure telephone line or a "bat phone" in his office at the Washington Institute. But a "direct "red line" to the White House – that he certainly does have.
The blog of Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, taking a deeper look behind the scenes of Israeli politics and foreign policy.