Jerusalem worried over breakdown of U.S.-Israel cooperation under Obama
Jerusalem officials say new administration no longer sees Israel as a 'special' state in the Mideast.
Senior officials in Jerusalem expressed concern recently over the sharp decline in the coordination between Israel and the United States on security and state affairs since President Barack Obama's entered the White House and especially since the formation of Israel's new government.
Senior White House officials told their Israeli counterparts that Obama will demand Netanyahu completely suspend construction in the settlements, the officials said.
"Obama's people brief their Israeli counterparts in advance much less about security and Middle East policy activities than the Bush administration used to," the officials said.
In addition, when they do brief Israeli officials, they don't consult with them or coordinate their statements in advance.
This has caused several coordination "malfunctions" between the two states in the past two months, they said.
The last incident was the statement of Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, calling on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The statement had not been coordinated with Israeli officials in charge of the nuclear issue and they heard it first from the media.
This followed other equally problematic incidents. The American policy shift toward Syria and opening direct talks with Damascus followed minimal coordination with Israel. For example, Israel was not briefed about senior American diplomats' trip to Damascus, which the U.S. had initiated.
Another incident concerned U.S. envoy for Iranian affairs Dennis Ross' trip to the Gulf states a few days ago for talks on Iran. Israel was briefed on the trip in general details, but no consultations or message-coordination took place before the trip. In addition, Ross did not pass through Israel on his way to the Gulf or back to brief Israel on the talks' outcome.
The American policy toward Iran has remained generally ambiguous as far as Israel is concerned and the administration has not outlined to Israel its plan for a dialogue with Iran in an orderly way. Many of the details Israel learned about this plan were obtained via European channels.
The Israeli officials said the problem also stems from the government change in both states and because clear work procedures between the sides have not been set established.
"This will be one of the most important things Netanyahu will have to settle with Obama," a senior official said.
However, the official said the new administration no longer seems to see Israel as a "special" or "extraordinary" state in the Middle East, with which the U.S. must maintain a different dialogue than with other states.
"The feeling is that the dialogue and coordination with the Arab states and with Europe is today no less important to the U.S. and perhaps more so than with Israel," the official said.
Uzi Arad, the official in the Prime Minister's Office in charge of the liaison with the American administration, maintains ties with various American officials but has not yet forged a direct channel to his counterpart, National Security Advisor General James L. Jones.
Arad is scheduled to go to Washington next week to prepare for Netanyahu's trip.
Arad will outline the first chapters of Israel's new foreign policy, with an emphasis on the Palestinian and Iranian issues, at his meeting with Jones next Tuesday in Washington ahead of Obama's meeting with Netanyahu May 18.
The Americans are expected to tell Arad what Obama expects of his meeting with Netanyahu and coordinate the meeting's agenda, issues and the two men's statements in the news conference after the meeting.
The Americans are also expected to brief Arad on the talks between American and Syrian officials in Damascus on Thursday.
During the Olmert government, Israeli officials kept very close ties with their counterparts in the American administration. This included advanced briefings about almost every American move. The Israelis were even briefed about former president George W. Bush's speeches or former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's foreign policy statements.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert used to have regular conversations with Bush while former foreign minister Tzipi Livni kept in touch with Rice. Olmert's chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and political advisor Shalom Turgeman coordinated foreign policy activities with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and his deputy Elliot Abrams.