Without taking the comparison too far, the relations between Israel and the United States went the way of the confrontation between Israel and Hamas this week, albeit with a 24 hour delay. On Monday morning everyone was convinced that a cease-fire in Gaza was just around the corner, and on Tuesday morning it seemed that transatlantic hostilities had calmed down as well. In both cases, the optimism was short-lived and the mutual volleys resumed forthwith.
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The imminent escalation in the diplomatic arena became apparent the moment U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asserted, in a press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart, “I’ve taken hits before in politics. I’m not worried about that. This is not about me.”
He might have 42 years of experience under his belt, but it strains credulity to think that Kerry was indifferent to the ferocious onslaught on his good name that started over the weekend in Jerusalem and quickly spread to American politics and media. Kerry was supposed to make do with the universal condemnation of his Israeli besmirchers offered by Administration colleagues, from Susan Rice on down, but his lost honor screamed for revenge and Kerry went on the warpath.
He emulated the tactics that had been used against him – hitting the enemy’s weak spot – but unlike some of his critics, who may have been attacking him in order to get at President Obama, Kerry went straight to the top of the pyramid. Just as his detractors – the more moderate ones, at least – played on Kerry’s alleged amateurishness and supposed naiveté, Kerry zeroed in on what is perceived in some quarters as Benjamin Netanyahu’s Achilles Heel: his credibility.
Kerry lit the fuse by describing Netanyahu as having begged for a cease-fire and then proceeded to detonate his bomb: “Now, either I take his commitment at face value, or someone is playing a different game here, and I hope that’s not the fact.” As Jon Stewart would say under such circumstances: BOOM!
The temporary lull in fighting dissipated within hours, of course, as the Prime Minister’s Office went into blanket denial and harsh counterattack mode. But just then, in what hardly seemed like a coincidence, the dreaded second front erupted: Israel’s Channel 1 aired what it claimed was a transcript of Sunday’s phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu. Everyone knew that their talks had been difficult, but the transcript made it seem as if an imperial Obama had been barking orders at a quivering Netanyahu, while ramming Qatar and Turkey down his throat in the process.
It wasn’t clear who had leaked the alleged transcript and whether was it a ‘false flag’ operation or possibly a clever PSYOPS ruse. In any case, the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office issued a rare joint rebuttal in an effort to contain the damage. “It’s shocking and disappointing that someone would sink to misrepresenting a private conversation between the President and the Prime Minister in fabrications to the Israeli press,” their statement said. Nonetheless, one thing was clear: a genuine cease-fire was still far, far away.
Of course one could seek consolation and take refuge in the concurrent U.S. Senate discussion of Israel’s request for supplemental funding for Iron Dome, where Republican senators were backing Israel’s Gaza campaign in glowing terms that would make even die-hard Likudniks blush. Republicans and their supporters are gleefully having field day with the Israeli attacks on Kerry, of course, which only adds insult to the administration’s pre-existing injury and resentment.
In-between the sparring sides, many backers of Israel are wondering what should worry them more: what seems to be the administration’s increasingly lackluster support for Israel’s Gaza campaign or the fact that Jerusalem has allowed itself to get into a public mud-fight with its main ally at a time when it is waging all-out war against its sworn enemy.