Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to have miscalculated with his latest attempt to bait President Obama and manipulate the results of the U.S. elections results. On Monday, Netanyahu leveled what the New York Times described as “unusually harsh public comments about Israel’s most important ally,” regarding the Obama administration’s policy on Iran. Speaking in English one day after Secretary of State Clinton said the United States was “not setting deadlines” regarding military action against Iran, Netanyahu said:
The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time’. And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.
As Noam Sheizaf reports, this speech was followed by a claim from the prime minister’s office that Obama had rejected a request for a meeting during Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the U.N., where he is scheduled to address the General Assembly. The White House denied the snub, Obama called Netanyahu – reportedly at 3 a.m. – to have a one-hour chat and thus both sides pulled back from the brink of a public rupture, just two months before the presidential elections.
But then something interesting happened. Yesterday, a prominent U.S. senator and two important journalists made highly critical remarks about Netanyahu. The blunt wording is almost unprecedented in mainstream American discourse.
Senator Barbara Boxer published a letter to Netanyahu on her website as a press release, titled “Boxer Expresses Disappointment Over Israeli Prime Minister’s Remarks.” In the opening paragraph she describes herself as “one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress” (which she is), and then characterizes Netanyahu’s remarks as “utterly contrary to the extraordinary United States-Israel alliance, evidenced by President Obama’s record and the record of Congress.” After offering a detailed list of the extraordinary measures the president has taken to ensure Israel’s security, particularly the enacting of the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, the senator writes:
In light of this, I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System?
David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, also had some harsh words for Netanyahu in a piece, Neocon Gambits (“Have Netanyahu’s Attacks on Obama Gone too Far?), published yesterday on the magazine’s web site. He pulls no punches in his opening paragraph:
It is hard to overestimate the risks that Benjamin Netanyahu poses to the future of his own country. As Prime Minister, he has done more than any other political figure to embolden and elevate the reactionary forces in Israel, to eliminate the dwindling possibility of a just settlement with the Palestinians, and to isolate his country on the world diplomatic stage. Now Netanyahu seems determined, more than ever, to alienate the President of the United States and, as an ally of Mitt Romney’s campaign, to make himself a factor in the 2012 election—one no less pivotal than the most super Super PAC.
But then we come to the main point:
In Netanyahu’s view, Obama, despite instituting crippling economic sanctions, despite carrying out a series of covert operations, despite diplomatic pressure, despite vows that an Iranian bomb is impermissible—despite all that—is weak and deluded. The Israeli Prime Minister has made no secret of his distrust, even though Israeli politicians acknowledge that intelligence and defense coöperation has never been stronger. His trusted American allies are not the elected President but, rather, his friends on the American right, the politicians, business people, and lobbyists, who are never willing to disagree with Israel at all.
Remnick seems genuinely outraged. Netanyahu’s “performance,” he writes,” is in the same neocon voice as the one adopted by the Romney campaign and in its opportunistic reaction to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outposts in Cairo and Benghazi, which left our Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other consular employees dead.”
And then Joe Klein, another prominent U.S journalist, said during an MSNBC interview that Netanyahu’s remarks were “brazen” and “disgusting.”
I don’t think I’ve ever, in the 40 years I’ve been doing this, have heard of another of an American ally trying to push us into war as blatantly and trying to influence an American election as blatantly as Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud party in Israel is doing right now. I think it’s absolutely outrageous and disgusting. It’s not a way that friends treat each other. And it is cynical and it is brazen. And by the way, a little bit of history here: In December of 2006, George W. Bush went over to the Pentagon, met with the joint chiefs of staff and asked them, “What do you think about military action in Iran?” They were unanimously opposed to it. And as far as I know, the United States military, the leaders of the United States military, are unanimously opposed to it to this day. This is a fool’s errand. It would be a ridiculous war with absolutely no good coming of it.
Mainstream America is not interested in going to war with Iran, it seems. Nor does it take kindly to a foreign leader meddling so obviously in domestic politics. Perhaps the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens was the final straw, but I think the remarks made by Boxer, Klein and Remnick were a long time coming. The fact that they are all Jewish gives the lie to Sheldon Adelson’s claim that he represents the mainstream Jewish community’s point of view – as does a quick perusal of the names of the biggest donors to the Obama campaign (the bundlers).
Meanwhile, the abysmal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu is Politico’s top story today.
“There is a lack of rapport between these two men — they don’t like each other very much. Plus, there are serious differences between our interests and Israel’s own security interests,” said former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who was present for several of Obama’s nine face-to-face meetings with Netanyahu.