Don’t be confused by the squirming disclaimers by U.S. spokespeople as they try every which way to quell the storm after anonymous senior officials called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “chickenshit” and various other invectives.
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The denials from the White House and State Department sounded about as sincere as the semi-apology a few months ago by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon after he called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “messianic and obsessive.” The crisis in ties between Israel and the United States is alive and well and here to stay.
Netanyahu is convinced that this latest attack against him originates in U.S. President Barack Obama’s closest inner circle. But even if Obama’s senior advisers didn’t make those remarks, as White House officials insist, or even if the officials quoted by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic spoke without authorization, their words faithfully represent the Oval Office’s attitude toward Netanyahu.
The expressions used by those U.S. officials to refer to the prime minister also recall harsh things that a long line of American presidents and cabinet members have said about Netanyahu over the past 20 years.
In an article a few years ago, senior U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller mentioned that Secretary of State James Baker had boycotted Netanyahu when the latter was deputy foreign minister and temporarily banned him from the State Department. And President Bill Clinton walked out furious from his first meeting with Netanyahu in 1996, wondering if the Israeli prime minister thought his country was the superpower.
But why hark back to the distant past? The same Jeffrey Goldberg reported four years ago that then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Obama that Netanyahu was an ungrateful ally and that his policy on the Palestinian issue threatened Israel’s future.
The U.S. officials behind the current attack were apparently trying to influence Israeli public opinion by revealing what the administration really thinks of Netanyahu; to signal to Israelis that their prime minister is seriously damaging strategic relations with the United States and endangering their national security.
But the insults and coarse language will produce the opposite, at least in the near term. Netanyahu, who believes he’s already in an election campaign, took advantage of this incident to portray himself to Israelis as an innocent victim; someone being attacked simply because he’s fighting to defend Israel’s security interests and the Jewish people’s holy places in Jerusalem.
Beyond the release of steam and expression of frustrations the White House has accumulated about Netanyahu over the past five years, the latest attack is a harbinger of how Washington will conduct policy toward the Netanyahu government after next week’s congressional elections, during Obama’s last two years office. The close security and intelligence cooperation will continue, but America’s diplomatic defense of Israel at the United Nations and other international forums will not be immediate and obvious.
In the face of the diplomatic attack Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to launch against Israel at the United Nations, the Americans will suffice with casting their veto in the Security Council. But regarding anything else, they’ll let Abbas run amok as he pleases.
It will be the same regarding European initiatives for sanctions against the settlements. As far as the Americans are concerned, Netanyahu can lie in the bed he has made for himself.