When it comes to Israel, President Obama has been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is campaign Obama, who assures the Israelis he doesn’t bluff when it comes to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, lavishes the Jewish state with even more military assistance than his predecessor, and goes out of his way to let bygones be bygones.
Then there is the other Obama. This is the one that instructs his secretary of state to travel to the Middle East to propose a Gaza ceasefire that America’s allies in the region thinks rewards Hamas for starting a war this summer. It is the Obama who emerges in an incisive column published Tuesday by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
The headline of course is that senior administration officials are privately calling Netanyahu “chickenshit.” He’s chickenshit because he won’t risk his own political coalition to stop the announcement of construction in East Jerusalem. But he’s also chickenshit because at the end of the day, Netanyahu heeded the warnings and requests of Obama and did not take military action against Iran. As one pro-Israel activist in Washington put it, “This is what Bibi gets for doing what Obama wanted?”
Netanyahu on Wednesday said “I am being attacked personally only because I am defending the state of Israel.”
As Goldberg spells out, “chickenshit” is only one of many adjectives Obama’s top advisers have used to characterize Netanyahu in private. He’s also described as “recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery’.”
But chickenshit is the one that must sting Bibi the most. After all this is a man who has lived in the shadow of his older brother Yonatan, the only Israel commando killed in the raid that freed the hostages at the raid on Entebbe, Uganda. Inside Bibi’s own political party, Likud, his critics often paint him as too timid to take military action.
Of course the “chickenshit” comment is not the first time Israeli and U.S. officials have used the press to anonymously attack one another. Earlier this year, Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, was quoted in what he claimed was an off-the-record comment, that he wished Secretary of State John Kerry would win a Nobel Prize already so he could leave Israel alone. (The administration demanded he apologize.) When Ya’alon was in Washington last week, he was snubbed by the White House and the State Department, who refused to take a meeting with him. The snub was then leaked to the press.
These days Israeli officials are openly slamming the Palestinian leader who Kerry and Obama have said repeatedly represents Israel’s best chance for a two-state solution.
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