Jun 23, 2023

Netanyahu Takes Aim At U.S. Diplomacy Again

Photograph Source: Avi Ohayon / Government Press Office – CC BY-SA 3.0

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s leading anti-American protagonist, is at it again.  The Israelis, presumably at Netanyahu’s direction, are leaking sensitive information regarding secret talks between the United States and Iran.  The talks are designed to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program, liberate three American prisoners; and end proxy attacks on U.S. forces in Syria.  Netanyahu visited Israeli Aerospace Industries last week and stated that any understanding between the United States and Iran would be “unacceptable to us.”

Netanyahu is particularly incensed that, in return for Iran’s positive response, the United States would give Iran greater access to billions of its dollars that have been frozen.  The indirect talks would not revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and various world powers, but it would help to stabilize U.S.-Iranian relations and ease regional tensions in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.  Israel, of course, is not interested in any of this.

Anti-Americanism in Israel is not a new development, although Netanyahu has been more stubborn than his predecessors in challenging U.S. administrations.  In 2015, Netanyahu accepted an outrageous invitation from Republican legislators to address a joint session of Congress, an unacceptable interference in U.S. domestic politics that should have had consequences for Israel.  At the time, the United States was having significant diplomatic and political success in orchestrating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal with Iran, along with Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.  Secretary of State John Kerry’s greatest success was the Iran nuclear deal, but Donald Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton, abrogated it in 2018.

Israel has gotten away with numerous acts of opposition to U.S. leaders and their policies over the years.  Several weeks ago in Counterpunch, I described the deliberate Israeli attack on the USS Liberty during the Six-Day War in 1967; Israel’s goal was to stop U.S. interception of Israeli communications.  Thirty-four American sailors were killed by Israeli bombing runs.  The Israelis even interfered with rescue operations.

In the 1950s, Israeli agents bombed a United States Information Agency library in Egypt and tried to make it appear to be an Egyptian act of violence.  Israel was trying to stop U.S. support for the Aswan Dam project, and to prevent Secretary of State John Foster Dulles from engaging in substantive talks with the Egyptians.  Dulles was trying to block Soviet inroads in Cairo.

In the late stages of the October War in 1973, the Israelis ignored a cease-fire that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had carefully orchestrated with Soviet leaders to stop the fighting.  Israeli violations of the cease-fire even led Kissinger to threaten to intervene in the conflict if Israel didn’t stop its military operations.  Kissinger’s threat caught Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger off-guard, and the Pentagon was not happy about the threat of intervention.  Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who may have ordered the attack on the USS Liberty in the Six-Day War, got the message and stopped the attacks.  (The October War marked a major Israeli intelligence failure, which ended Dayan’s hopes of becoming prime minister.)

President Joe Biden has signaled his opposition to Netanyahu’s policies along a broad front, particularly his anti-democratic “judicial reform” plans and his policies on the West Bank.  The proliferation of Jewish settlements on the West Bank is particularly unwelcome in Washington (as well as in most of the international community).  Nor is Washington pleased with the expeditious planning and approval of these settlements, which may lead to 4,000 settlement units in the near term.

Biden’s opposition to Netanyahu, including his unwillingness to invite him to the White House, presumably resonates in some Israeli circles, although not among messianic members of the ruling coalition and the increasingly right-wing general population.  It wasn’t mentioned in the mainstream media, but Biden also postponed a scheduled meeting in Morocco of the Negev Forum, which would have included the foreign ministers and secretaries of state of Israel, the United States, and several Arab nations.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, however, understands Washington’s opposition to Netanyahu’s policies and is trying to galvanize a broad political consensus against so-called “judicial reform.”  Herzog’s brother, Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a veteran peace negotiator, told the Democratic Majority for Israel that “diplomacy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

As a result, Netanyahu is facing a loss of political support for his favored coalition partners in addition to a weakened Israeli currency and increased inflation.  Thus far, however, nothing has stopped Netanyahu from embarrassing virtually every American official, including Presidents Obama and Biden and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.  Netanyahu typically announced the expansion of settlements on the West Bank during the visits of U.S. officials.

Unfortunately, U.S. officials have been reluctant to use the most significant tool they possess to influence Netanyahu, which is the military assistance Israel receives on more favorable terms than any other country, including member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Since there are Israeli officials who believe that Netanyahu has gone too far in challenging the United States, perhaps this is the time to brandish the military assistance weapon.  This would be a difficult step for a president from the Democratic Party, but Biden may be surprised to find that there is increased support within the Party and the general U.S. population for standing up to the intransigence of Benjamin Netanyahu.

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