It’s probably safe to say that U.S.-Israel relations aren’t exactly at a high point.
In an article published Tuesday at The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg, the Obama administration’s preferred conduit for all things Israel-related, an unnamed senior Obama administration official called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit.”
“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” the official told Goldberg.
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” he continued. ““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.”
Below, you’ll find 5 takeaways from Goldberg’s piece:
1.) Putting the caustic comment in context, Goldberg writes that in the past, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu as being a “no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency,” though not in those exact words. We are supposed to understand the “chickenshit” accusation as a critique in the same vein, if a bit more vituperative. It’s a stunning attack considering this is an administration whose self-proclaimed foreign policy doctrine is “Don’t Do Stupid Shit.” Say what you will about having “Don’t Do Stupid Shit” as a foreign policy doctrine, but it’s not exactly visionary.
2.) It should be noted that “chickenshit” Netanyahu served in the elite Israeli special forces unit Sayeret Matkal. He was even wounded in battle. In contrast, Obama probably once got a paper cut working on the Harvard Law Review.
3.) If Netanyahu is really the world leader that “frustrate[s]” the White House and State Department the most, as Goldberg’s article states, that’s sort of amazing. Let’s give the anonymous critic in the administration the benefit of the doubt and assume he is talking about the most frustrating leader among America’s allies. Still. What about, for instance, Turkish President Recep Erdogan? Erdogan, who Obama reportedly once considered among his best friends on the world stage, served as Turkey’s prime minister for all of Obama’s presidency before becoming Turkey’s president this year. During that time, Turkey turned a blind eye to jihadists flowing over its border into Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, allowing the terror group’s ranks to grow in strength. The country also harbors international terror leaders and hasn’t been particularly accommodating in helping the U.S. fight ISIS.
Or what about any of the numerous Arab dictators who refuse to do more to crack down on funding of terror groups across the Middle East? They don’t frustrate Obama as much as Netanyahu? Until recently, Iraq was led by Nouri al-Maliki, whose corrupt and sectarian rule helped tear Iraq apart. He wasn’t as frustrating as Netanyahu? One could go on. And on. And on. And on.
As Business Insider’s Armin Rosen notes, “the Obama admin wanted 2 things out of Bibi: a settlement freeze, and no Iran attack. It got both.” Yet it seems no allied leader gets attacked more by this administration than Netanyahu. In fact, there aren’t too many enemy leaders who face the same verbal assaults by Obama administration officials.
4.) Goldberg’s article also says that while the Obama administration worried Netanyahu would strike Iran’s nuclear program a couple of years ago, administration officials no longer have this fear. This, however, could be a total misreading. Nearly three years ago I met with the Middle East scholar Barry Rubin during a visit to Israel. Rubin, who passed away last year, always maintained that Israel wouldn’t strike Iran when there was so much noise about a potential Israeli strike. It would be much more likely to strike Iran when the noise died down — when the world didn’t think it would strike. So the fact that the Obama administration thinks Israel won’t strike Iran could — and I emphasize could, because no one really knows — actually be a sign that Israel is more likely to strike Iran’s nuclear program than ever before.
5.) What does this obvious hostility toward Netanyahu and Israel by the Obama administration portend for the Jewish state after the midterm elections? If the GOP takes the Senate, Obama’s domestic agenda will be even more stymied than it has been. But presidents have more latitude on foreign policy than they do on domestic policy. They can do much more without the need to consult Congress. If he faces two hostile chambers in Congress, will Obama focus his attention on foreign policy and, perhaps, pressure Israel to agree to a bad peace deal with the Palestinians while at the same time agree to a bad nuclear deal with Iran?
Indeed, Goldberg — who actually places the blame for the soured U.S.-Israel relationship mostly on Netanyahu — hints at what we might see, including the White House possibly “withdraw[ing] diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations.”
“It would also be unsurprising, post-November, to see the Obama administration take a step Netanyahu is loath to see it take: a public, full lay-down of the administration’s vision for a two-state solution, including maps delineating Israel’s borders,” Goldberg adds.
In other words, expect the U.S.-Israel relationship only to get worse as long as President Barack Obama is in the White House.