Forward Thinking

Bibi's 'Snub' Leak Makes Sense to Some

By Nathan Jeffay

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Benjamin Netanyahu

It’s surely an irony of the current public spat between Israel and the White House: An Israeli government that tut-tuts every time important public figures speak their mind on Iran has no qualms about leaking sensitive information when it suits its own perceived interests.

Whatever the truth of the current spat between Jerusalem and Washington over whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to arrange a meeting with President Barack Obama, it grew out of Israeli leaks to the press. The White House denied that any meeting request was received, much less that Netanyahu was snubbed.

The dust-up highlights the contrast between the zipped lips Netanyahu expects of his critics in Israel on what he regards the ultra-sensitive Iran issue, and his own lack of resolve to be discrete to another vital element of the Iran issue, namely relations with the U.S. The leaks from his loyalists are only magnified by the fact that they are coming at the height of the American election campaign, in apparent violation of the unspoken rule against Israeli interference in domestic politics.

But many Israelis don’t scrutinize Netanyahu’s conduct in this way. What’s important to them isn’t why his office runs to the media with its grievances against the U.S., but why the Obama supposedly snubbed Netanyahu in the first place (people here are pretty certain that he did).

Even the left-wing daily Haaretz ran a column saying of Obama’s actions: “Not only is it a political mistake, but a practical one, too.”

The writer, Chemi Shalev, reasoned: “Israelis [will] be affronted, whether they are supporters or detractors of Bibi, and they might also reach conclusions that run contrary to White House intentions. Yes, many will blame Netanyahu for needlessly inflaming tensions with the U.S. president, but they may also reach the conclusion, nonetheless, that Israel has been left truly alone, and must therefore take matters into its own hands.”

In reality, this episode strengthens the increasingly common view among the Israeli public that their country has been forsaken and needs to protect its own interests with or without its friends. It’s been left to the politically wounded Kadima Party to critique Israel’s role in the spat.

“Mr. Prime Minister, tell me, who is our biggest enemy, the US or Iran? Who do you want replaced, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad or [US President Barack] Obama?” Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz asked in Knesset.

He then asked: “How low are you prepared to drag relations with our closest ally?” and said:“ Israel is not alone; we have good friends overseas. Talk to them. Have a real, open dialogue. Make them partners, not observers from the side.”


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