For months before the most recent attacks on U.S. embassies in North African states, Foreign Ministry and U.S. State Department officials had been arguing over developments in these countries. Senior figures in Jerusalem claimed that Washington was burying its head in the sand and ignoring the increasing radicalization in states such as Tunisia and Egypt.
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The Obama administration, which since the beginning of the Arab Spring has aided, directly or indirectly, the forces that brought down the dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Lybia, now finds itself in a position of helplessness. The attack on the consulate in Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed, and the storming of the U.S. embassies in Tunis, Sanaa and Cairo, proved the great hostility to the United States and the unwillingness of these country's new leaders to challenge domestic public opinion.
Senior Foreign Ministry officials say their conversations with their Washington counterparts have focused on what Jerusalem terms "radicalizing trends" against not only Israel but also against the United States and the West in general.
One of the most recent such meetings took place a week ago, during a visit to Jerusalem by the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, A. Elizabeth Jones.
"The Americans were constantly trying to supply explanations and excuses for events in the post-revolution Arab states, and simply ignored the problems," one senior Israeli official said, adding, "In practice the administration's ability to affect events in the Arab world has decreased immensely."
The Foreign Ministry official presented the example of Tunisia, which was expected to be moderate despite the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. Several weeks ago Israel's ambassador to Poland, Zvi Rav-Ner, reported that the Tunisian ambassador to Poland had been called back to Tunisia unexpectedly, ending her posting there. Rav-Ner added that all five women serving as ambassadors of Tunisia in various countries had been recalled at around the same time.
The Israel embassy in Washington was instructed to report the matter to the State Department and determine whether it was aware of the development. Several days late U.S. officials reported that the measure was technical only, involving the replacement of all ambassadors from the previous regime, and had nothing to do with gender discrimination.
The Foreign Ministry conducted its own examination and determined that many male ambassadors from the previous regime had not been recalled. "We knew what was happening, but the Americans preferred to find excuses," said the senior official.
A similar pattern emerged as to Israeli efforts to prevent a clause being added to the new Tunisian constitution outlawing normalization or contacts with Israel. The Foreign Ministry asked the United States to intervene, but was not satisfied by the response. "They told us, 'Don't worry, it's going to be all right, the clause will be left out,' but the clause is still in there," the official said.
Israel has also called American attention to the fact that for the past year Egypt has been dragging its feet over talks on reopening the Israeli embassy in Cairo. U.S. appeals have failed to speed things up.
Senior Foreign Ministry officials said the latest riots at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and the weak condemnation of President Mohammad Morsi, demonstrated that despite its massive military and economic aid to Egypt the United States had failed to achieve any real influence over the Muslim Brotherhood. "Only now, after what happened to their embassies, the Americans are beginning to understand the situation," the senior official concluded, "to hear the president of the United States declared that Egypt isn't an ally, but also isn't the enemy - that's a real earthquake," he said.
In related news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a new public relations offensive in the United States. He has recorded interviews that will be broadcast today on important Sunday-morning political shows on CNN and NBC, all in an effort to persuade the American public that setting "red lines" for Iran will cool Tehran's enthusiasm for its nuclear program and reduce the likelihood of a wider military confrontation. Netanyahu is expected to point to the violent demonstrations at U.S. embassies around the world and to say, "Think what would happen if these people had nuclear weapons."