Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, painted a dark picture of U.S.-Israeli relations during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem last week. Israeli diplomats say Oren described the current situation as a “tectonic rift” in which Israel and the United States are like continents drifting apart.
Oren’s comments come in the run-up to the July 6 meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.
Oren visited Israel over the past week, briefing Israelis at the ministry’s North America and research divisions. Five Israeli diplomats, some of whom took part in the briefing or were informed about the details, said Oren described relations between the two countries in bleak terms.
Oren, however, has denied making such statements.
According to the Israeli diplomats, Oren said relations between the two countries are not in a crisis because a crisis is something that passes. Oren opted to use terms from geology: “Relations are in the state of a tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart.”
Oren noted that contrary to Obama’s predecessors − George W. Bush and Bill Clinton − the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations. He added that his access as Israel’s ambassador to senior administration officials and close advisers of the president is good. But Obama has very tight control over his immediate environment, and it is hard to influence him.
“This is a one-man show,” Oren is quoted as saying.
The Israeli ambassador said the events of the Gaza-bound flotilla stirred a great deal of anti-Israel reaction − in the United States, too. Only after a few days did the situation balance out.
“Even our close friends came out against us,” Oren said. “Only after some time, when video from the ship arrived and was aired by the American media, did public opinion begin to shift in Israel’s favor.”
In the days after the violent takeover of the Turkish ship bound for the Gaza Strip, Oren granted more than 20 media interviews in the United States, helping give Israel’s version of the story.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet for the fifth time with Obama in a bid to build trust and rehabilitate ties with the United States.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Washington last week and met with Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Senator John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, is due to visit Israel and meet with Netanyahu, Barak and President Shimon Peres.
Also last week, Pentagon and Defense Ministry officials held talks in Israel within the framework of the two countries’ strategic dialogue that focuses on maintaining the Israel Defense Forces’ technological edge over Arab armies.
The U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, Michele Flournoy, told Haaretz that “defense ties between Israel and the United States are stronger than ever.” She said the United States is giving Israel access to the most advanced systems of the American defense industry.
The special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is due for a fifth round of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians Authority.
Late last week, for the first time since the Netanyahu government formed, senior officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority − Dan Meridor and Saeb Erekat − met with representatives of the 15 members of the UN Security Council.
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