Netanyahu's Office Hits Back at U.S. Official's 'Chickenshit' Jibe: PM Won't Give in to Pressure

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, U.S. officials praised the prime minister’s caution about starting wars but decried his distaste for the peace process.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with soldiers from the mixed Karakal infantry in May 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with soldiers from the mixed Karakal infantry in May 2012.Credit: PMO / Archive
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office launched at counter-offensive at the Obama administration Wednesday, after a senior U.S. official was quoted as saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “a chickenshit prime minister,” who only cares about his political survival.

"Netanyahu will continue to uphold the security interests of Israel and the historical rights of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, and no amount of pressure will change that," Netanyahu's office said in response to the remark, the latest in the ongoing crisis in U.S.-relations, which was cited in a report by The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg.

“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” the official was cited as saying. According to Goldberg, the Obama administration official said that Netanyahu frustrates the White House and the U.S. State Department the most.

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

Another senior U.S. official told Goldberg that unlike the situation from 2010 to 2012, the White House no longer believes that Netanyahu will launch a preemptive strike on Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“It’s too late for him to do anything,” the official said. “Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

According to the second official, “The feeling now is that Bibi’s bluffing,” adding that “he’s not Begin at Osirak” — referring to Israel’s strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.

According to Goldberg, after the midterm Congressional elections on November 4 and ahead of the Palestinian move toward statehood at the United Nations, the Obama administration will no longer shield Israel at international organizations.

Goldberg added that even if Washington vetoes the resolution the Palestinians will try to advance, it will craft an alternative resolution about the settlements and bring it to a vote. Israel would remain completely isolated internationally.

Another possibility is for the Obama administration to present a detailed position on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including maps with borders of the future Palestinian state, Goldberg said.

Bennett: U.S. might throw Israel under the bus

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett responded harshly to the interview, saying that "the prime minister is not a private person, but the leader of the Jewish state and the Jewish world. Such severe curse words against the Israeli prime minister are harmful to millions of Israeli citizens and Jews worldwide."

Bennett criticized the Obama administration official, saying that it wasn't Syria's Assad, "who slaughtered 150,000 of his citizens, nor the leader of Saudi Arabia, who stones women and homosexuals, won the nickname 'chickenshit'," but the leader of Israel, "the only democratic state in the Middle East."

Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, said that if what was quoted is true, "then the current administration intends to throw Israel under the bus."

Bennett said Israel is a "vanguard of the free world against the Islamist terrorism by ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran." Bennett called on the U.S. administration to renounce the remarks, adding that "instead of attacking Israel and force it into terms of suicide, it should strengthen it."

Meretz head MK Zahava Gal-On also responded to the exchange. "The blatant contempt the Obama administration displays toward Netanyahu shows just how tired they are of him. Having demolished his relationship with the Americans over the building in East Jerusalem and his refusal to progress toward [an agreement with the Palestinians], and after the attacks on top officials by high-ranking ministers of his government, Netanyahu has brought Israel to the most severe low point in its relations with its most important ally."

'We do not believe there is a crisis in the relationship'

Following the Atlantic report, U.S. National Security Spokesperson Alistair Baskey tried to downplay the level of tension between the two countries. "We do not believe there is a crisis in the relationship. The relationship remains as strong as ever and the ties between our nations are unshakable."

"However," the spokesperson added, "there are times when we disagree with actions of the Israeli government and we must raise our concerns, such as our concerns about Israel’s settlement policy. We raise these concerns as a partner who is deeply concerned about Israel’s future and wants to see Israel living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors."

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