Obama-Netanyahu rift aside, US support for Israeli aggression permanent

Obama-Netanyahu rift aside, US support for Israeli aggression permanent
Comment: The rift between Barak Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu​ is real, but America's blind support for Israeli crimes remains almost visceral, no matter who is in the Oval Office, writes Said Arikat in Washington.
6 min read
22 Feb, 2015
Obama and Netanyahu have reportedly never seen eye to eye (Getty)
The closer we get to the proposed date for Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint session of the US Congress on March 3, while attending the annual conference of AIPAC, Israel's powerful lobby in Washington, the deeper the tensions between American President Barack Obama and Netanyahu become, and the barb trading, even direct accusations between the two rising to a crescendo.  

True, the two have never really liked each other, and Netanyahu did everything possible to complicate Obama's first term, presenting him with a horrifying war on Gaza just before inauguration, and openly and provocatively campaigning for his Republican opponent Mitt Romney in the 2012.  The list of offences goes on, with the Israeli Prime Minister showing, not only contempt for the administration's efforts to reach a deal on Iran's nuclear deal, but unusual eagerness to partner with congressional Republicans to derail the international negotiations working to undermine the American President at home by coordinating with House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican lawmakers. The President’s opponents on Capitol Hill have in fact  for the first time in US  history invited a foreign leader to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress for the stated purpose of condemning, and working to undermine, American foreign policy, and without even consulting Administration.

But this week, the relationship between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu basically went off a cliff.

According to David Ignatius, the well known Washington Post columnist, wrote on February 16  that, "mistrust between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu has widened even further in recent days because of U.S. suspicion that the Israeli prime minister has authorised leaks of details about the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran" which consequently caused the Administration to reduce its intelligence sharing on the talks with Israel.

Ignatius added that, "the decision to reduce the exchange of sensitive information about the Iran talks was prompted by concerns that Netanyahu’s office had given Israeli journalists sensitive details of the US  position, including a US  offer to allow Iran to enrich uranium with 6,500 or more centrifuges as part of a final deal.”

The timeline comes after a senior administration official called Netanyahu “chicken***t” as was reported in the Atlantic last October, but predates Boehner's invitation which came  the day after Obama gave his State of the Union speech.

According to Ignatius, "this latest breach in the US-Israeli relationship began around Jan. 12 with a phone call from Netanyahu. Obama asked the Israeli leader to hold fire diplomatically for several more months while US negotiators explored whether Iran might agree to a deal that, through its technical limits on centrifuges and stockpiles, extended the breakout period that Iran would need to build a bomb to more than a year. But Netanyahu is said to have responded that a year wasn’t enough and to have reverted to Israel’s hard-line insistence that Iran shouldn’t be allowed any centrifuges or enrichment.”

The Administration first denied, but then quickly admitted this. On Wednesday, February 18, 2015, while President Obama was hosting his Countering Violent Extremists Summit (CVE) at the White House, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki, extraordinarily confirmed on the record that indeed steps were taken by the Obama Administration to ensure that "classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors" and that one of the measure taken to guard the veracity of the P5+1 talks was the unusual decision to withhold talks' details from Israel. She also directly blamed Israel for mischaracterising the talks.

She said, that it was "safe to say that not everything you're hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate reflection of the details of the talk", before asserting that "there's a selective sharing of information.”

Although she said that such a policy (of withholding certain information) was longstanding, senior US officials who are more directly involved in the talks claim that the decision to withhold the most sensitive details of the negotiations, is fairly recent, dating back only several weeks, confirming Ignatius' timeline of January 12, 2015.
The decision seems to have been prompted by a prevailing feeling in the White House, that Netanyahu, who is facing a March 17 election, has committed to destroying the negotiations at any cost to help his chances with the rightwing in Israel, "rather than merely insisting on a good deal" which cast a political motivation behind the leaks from Israeli officials and "made it impossible to continue to share all details of the talks", in light of Netanyahu's determination - supported by Congressional Republicans - not to back-down on his vow to argue against a nuclear deal when he speaks before Congress in early March, according to one anonymous source.

On Thursday, February 19, just as the State Department CVE hosted portion was wrapping up, State Department Spokeswoman Psaki rebuked Netanyahu for his claim that he knew all there was to know about the Iran talks;  she said almost mockingly, "well, there isn’t a deal, so it’s hard for anyone to know”.

Pressed on by the Associated Press' indomitable Matt Lee, Psaki said, "I don’t think I have anything to add to what I said yesterday, but clearly, we take steps in order to ensure that classified information and information that we don’t want to be publicly discussed is not publicly discussed" suggesting sarcastically that Netanyahu, "Sounds like he knows more than the negotiators, since there’s no deal yet.”

Psaki further told us that Secretary of State, John Kerry "will not be attending AIPAC's conference (February 27-March 3) because he will be on foreign travel" yet to be determined. American Vice President Joe Biden, the self proclaimed Zionist, we are told, might also be on yet to be determined foreign travel, and will not attend, something that would have been seen as heretical in Washington before where AIPAC has traditionally dominated much of the foreign policy debate.

Wherever one turns in Washington these days, whether in the ubiquitous  think-tanks, the corridors of the State Department or Congress or reporters Bullpens, the talks is of the seriousness of the Obama Netanyahu rift, with each marshalling their forces to undermine the other.

In over three decades in Washington, I myself have never seen the anything like the bad-blood between Obama and Netanyahu. Not even when George Herbert Walker Bush, buoyed by his victory over Iraq in 1991 challenged Israel and AIPAC publicly (and ended-up paying for it by losing to Bill Clinton in the 1992 elections).

Maybe Obama is determined to face it out with Netanyahu because as he told the nation on January 20 that  he had "no more campaigns to run" and has actually his fill of AIPACS arm-twisting and Netanyahu's ungrateful insolence.

And maybe Obama is not looking at Bush who regretted challenging Israel, but rather looking at Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower who in November 1956 faced a similar situation with adversaries and allies marching multiple directions, with Soviet Union poised to swallow Hungary; Britain and France joining to seize the Suez Canal and potentially topple Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ike kept cool on Hungary and supporting UN resolution forcing Israel out of the Sinai that it had just conquered. 

We don't but the clock is ticking and the 3rd of March is 10 days away. As one longtime watcher told me, "the Obama, Netanyahu is drift is real and maybe unbridgeable, but that's personal". What matters he said was "the military to military and intelligence to intelligence (CIA/ Mossad) [cooperation] is closer and more solid than ever", and we are not to see America abandoning Israel anytime soon, all its transgressions not withstanding.