Israeli PM Netanyahu Is a National Security Risk—And Washington Knows It

Last month, an anonymous U.S. official stirred a tempest in a teapot when he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit” in comments to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. The insinuation was that while Netanyahu will happily rile up his right-wing base on issues related to Palestine or Iran, he lacks the political courage to take meaningful steps to resolve either conflict.

State Department officials scurried to disavow themselves of the remark. But the incident revealed an increasingly common conclusion in Washington: Netanyahu’s foot-dragging on Middle East peace is not only frustrating for the United States—it’s dangerous.

Once a taboo subject in Washington, the value of the U.S.-Israeli alliance has increasingly come under scrutiny among even leading members of the foreign policy establishment.

As Anthony Cordesman—a Mideast expert at the center-right Center for Strategic and International Studies—observed, “It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”

General David Petraeus, back when he was the head of the U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.” Even President Obama has listed the conflict as a factor in U.S. wars in the Middle East that are “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

These comments by leading American figures were made four years ago—well before the Obama administration had had its biggest dustups with Netanyahu’s government. Two Gaza wars and another round of failed peace talks later, nothing has changed except Israel’s increasing willingness to flaunt international law—as it did in its massive assault on Gaza earlier this year, which killed some 1,500 civilians.

Now, even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry—a pro-Israel stalwartadmits, to the chagrin of Israeli officials, that the lack of progress in peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians is feeding support for the Islamic State. “There wasn’t a leader I met with in the region,” Kerry said of his efforts to cobble together an anti-Islamic State coalition, “who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation.”

One would think that such complaints from a key ally and patron would elicit some soul-searching in the Israeli government. Yet instead of charting a new course in his speech at the United Nations last September, Netanyahu fell back on an old, lazy recipe of demonization, equating Hamas with the Islamic State and the Islamic State with Iran. And he continued oft-used delaying tactics, inviting the current coalition of Arab countries fighting the Islamic State to draft a new peace proposal for Israel and the Palestinians—despite his longstanding rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative drafted over 10 years ago by many of those same countries. Officials in the Obama administration were reportedly “unconvinced” that Netanyahu’s proposal was sincere, given his lack of interest in direct talks with the Palestinians themselves.

In addition, just days before an October meeting with President Obama, Israel announced plans to construct 2,610 new housing units in East Jerusalem in violation of existing agreements. In a rare public rebuke, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said that the new settlements will alienate Israel’s “closest allies” —presumably including Washington—and “call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

Uncowed, Netanyahu dismissed the criticism, describing the U.S. rejection of the new settlements as “against American values” and “anti-peace.” When an Israeli prime minister describes longstanding U.S. strategic interests—in this case, conditions that would enable the creation of a viable Palestinian state and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—as “un-American,” it’s a clear indication that the United States cannot continue its current course of appeasing Israel’s every demand.

That’s a conclusion increasingly shared by Israel’s longtime allies in Europe. Sweden’s new government recently indicated that it will recognize Palestine as a state. The UK parliament followed up with a symbolic recognition vote of its own, and more European countries may soon do the same.

Groups in the United States and in Europe, meanwhile, have worked with Palestinian activists to organize a boycott of Israeli settlement products and academic institutions. Indeed, U.S. civil society—including many Jewish organizations—is now leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. government when it comes to rethinking the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu now looks poised to mobilize his supporters in the U.S. Congress to vote against any nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran.

Yet even as official Washington simmers with frustration at Netanyahu’s simultaneous demands for U.S. support and disregard for U.S. interests, officials rushed to put out the fire started by the anonymous “chickenshit” quip. As Foreign Policy’s Steve Walt put it, if Washington pretends that the “‘special relationship’ is hunky-dory, even when it is obvious to even casual observers that it is not,” then “Netanyahu’s not chickenshit—the White House is.”

Adil E. Shamoo is professor at University of Maryland and an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of Equal Worth—When Humanity Will Have Peace. His website is Peter Certo is the editor of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Mirrored from Foreign Policy in Focus

Reprinted under a Creative Commons License 3.0


Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Israel threatens to continue settlement activities”

14 Responses

  1. Netanyahu won’t change because he’s on a winner – there are never any negative consequences as a result of anything he says or does. What are a few words between friends when the US money keeps flowing and the settlements keep growing.

    • While Bibi is a SHORT TERM “winner,” he has Israel on a LONG TERM losing path. Many coming shifts in global power and demographics are going to cause future Israelis a LOT of very painful and possibly deadly problems.

      – Israel is no longer militarily superior. The world is awash in war toys equal to or better than Israel has or will ever have. Also many nations have realized that thousands of inexpensive weapons, completely trumps a few high-tech, very expensive weapons. For example, when anti-aircraft missiles are both inexpensive and reasonably accurate (as they are today), shooting multiple missiles at one high tech aircraft ensures the high-tech aircraft ends up in a flame ball. The multiple anti-aircraft missiles simply overwhelm the very expensive pilot and the aircraft defense systems. Note that Israel has, at the most, less than 3000 anti-missile projectiles, which means that even with 100% effectiveness (impossible), there would still be 47,000 to 100,000 enemy missiles landing on Israel destroying infrastructure and causing panic (that 50,000 to 100,00 number is from the IDF!)

      – Global demographics are against Israel. Globally a lot of humans were born about the same time as Israel and for 20 years they were fed a high concentration of the Israeli myth BS that most absorbed without question. BUT that generation is dying off and being replaced by humans born after the Vietnam war and many other terrible events..These later humans have no emotional attachment to Israel, ZERO. The humans under 40 have a strong skepticism about Israel and many view it as a trouble maker. As these people gain political power, Israel will have a much rougher future, even in the US.

      – Global shift in power. After 200 years of European and US suppression of Asia, once again Asia is re-taking its place on the global stage (most people do not realize that China has been a global power for most of its 5000 years of existence). The only thing Asia cares about Israel is to strip-mine it for intellectual property and then throw away the dead husk. Over a few years, China graduates more engineers than Israel has total population and those engineers are just as smart as Israeli engineers.. With the shift in power from the US and Europe to Asia, Israel loses even more in the process because Asians have ZERO need for Israel.

      The bottom line can be summed up . . “friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.” Israel is losing friends and creating enemies such that its future is very questionable.

      A REAL LEADER in Israel would give up lots of land, water, cash (for compensation) and apologies for past behavior to put together a middle east economic block in partnership with the Arabs. The middle east has all the components to make a viable economic block similar to Europe, USA/Canada, Asia, etc:

      – Intellectual property capability in Israel and Iran

      – Wealth to fund development in Iran and Saudi Arabia and to a less extent Israel

      – Labor force throughout the region

      – Local consumers throughout the region. One of the things needed for a viable economic block is a robust local economy. Create products to sell in the region then export the surplus production for additional profit.

      Israelis need to understand that they are NOT a European country but a middle east country, just like Australians had to finally figure out that even though a majority of the population came from Europe, Australia is actually economically an Asian country.

      Short term thinking dominates in Israel and long term thinking is derided and delusion abounds.

  2. doug s

    Until Voters PROVE to Wash. they will NOT reelect Reps & Pres who run from campaign promises, all this is rhetoric. (& O is worse.)

  3. Bibi is going to be deeply disappointed with the congress critters on Iran. Other than declaring war on Iran, there is absolutely NOTHING the congress critters can do about Iran.

    (1) Direct sanctions on US/Iran trade were put in place in 1979 and are now totally worthless. There is nothing left that the congress critters can directly do to Iran.

    (2) Indirect, third-party sanctions on trade between other countries and Iran are falling apart and no matter what congress critter weep and wail about, the third-party sanctions will continue to disappear with no new ones put in place. Other countries just do NOT care what congress critters think. If congress critters try to enforce the third-party sanctions by punishing countries, the other countries will simply fiercely retaliate against US business interests. HP, Google, and a wide variety of US companies are extremely vulnerable to economic pressure. The big US companies will scream at congress critters when European, Middle East and Asian nations brutally retaliate.

    (3) Manipulation of the global banking system can not go any further without severely damaging the US dollar, especially when there is a nice profit in laundering money for Iran. Iran and its many trading partners have figured out ways around the US control of the SWIFT banking network since ALL countries deeply resent the US using a basic banking tool for political revenge. Right now, China is trying to get the rest of the world to drop the US dollar as the reserve currency and come up with a different way that avoids US control. The more the US tries to use the global banking system as a tool of political revenge, the better the Chinese proposal looks to an increasing number of countries. If the congress critters push any further, the rest of the world will simply build a banking system to compete with SWIFT that can not be controlled by the US. Once a sufficient number of countries move to the competing system, the US dollar is done for because for US companies to survive, they will need to move to the other banking system. US companies care more for high profits than anything congress critters want.

    (4) War – While, per the US Constitution, any congress critter can introduce a bill declaring war on Iran and a mere 67% of the congress critters can vote to do it over a POTUS veto, it is unlikely that any bill declaring war will be introduced and even if one were to reach the floor of the Senate and House, that it would not pass because American voters would skin alive any congress critter that voted for it. Americans are in no mood for a war, especially one that would be so devastating to the US economy. While the PR machines could try to convince the public that war with Iran would be”painless,” I do not think the public would fall for it after the sad experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, this is why the congress critters are loath to have any vote about what to do with ISIL

    I think, in the end, the US will get the best deal it can with Iran, the congress critters will waste hours of talking head time on TV and Bibi will have to rant but do nothing, because the IDF leadership has already been told him the IDF can NOT do anything to Iran, only the US military has enough cannon fodder and war toys to waste in a needless war with Iran. Any Israeli attack on Iran would devastate the IDF and possibly cause Israel permanent harm or even end the state.

    Basically, Iran has checkmated Bibi and it is all over except the ineffective shouting.

    BTW – After Bibi loses the Iran fight, Israel will probably be in even worse shape vis-a-vis the US public. It appears that Israelis have not figured out (or do not want to believe) that, just like the republicans, have a demographic and age problem, so does Israel. As the boomers die off, Israel is losing support that no amount of PR can fix.

    • This is a really good post. Just add that the Israeli intelligence/IDF people did not need to have the US tell Israel to lay off. They remain against it, although Bibi has been trying to replace some of the most outspoken ones with his cronies – and had some success.

      BUT THE BEST PART OF YOUR POST – and others you’ve written – HAS TO BE THE TERM “CONGRESSIONAL CRITTERS.” The only problem is it makes me smile in the middle of a serious comment.

      • Congress critters are easy to identify because they share many similar characteristics:

        – Extremely fearful of anything that moves, especially anything that would separate them from their luxurious lifestyle.

        – Complete lack of any capacity to think, let alone think rationally.

        – Herd mentality. That is, whatever BS they have been fed spreads throughout the herd almost immediately.

        – Lack of a BS detector -congress critters are unable to know when they are being buried in BS.

        – Belligerence – they always react to any perceived threat with extreme belligerence causing them to send their minions to die on their behalf.

        I wish I could say that congress critters are an evolutionary reaction to past congress occupants, but unfortunately 200 years of history shows that congress critters have been with us since day one. The only thing we can do is have a rational population that regularly severely punishes the most ugly of the congress critters.What has changed is the population has become much more irrational and un-thinking.

        • spyguy – I see the logic of your analysis, but I often think these critters can tell BS from truth as well as you or I. I suspect they know exactly what they are doing and the negative effects upon the sheeple. But they are there for the 1%, they serve their masters’ agendas and they reap the rewards.

  4. The problem the USA has is this: it really doesn’t give a rat’s arse that Israel is gobbling up Palestinian territory as if there were no tomorrow. Uncle Sam just doesn’t care, now or ever.

    But what Uncle Sam can’t do is come out and say – openly, with no apologies – that they don’t care that Israel is gobbling up occupied territory, precisely because they know that this is illegal under the very int’l humanitarian laws that the USA helped draft after WW2.

    So Uncle Sam needs an excuse to enable this land-theft without *actually* admitting that this is what the USA is doing.

    And that Fig Leaf is the “US-mediated peace process” e.g. the USA can – and does – veto UNSC resolutions under the pretence that it must do so to “protect” that “peace process”.

    Otherwise it would have no excuse to veto resolutions that are (and let’s be honest here) little more than recitations of the USA’s own publically-declared policies.

    That’s why the USA is so pissed with Bibi. Israel has to at least **pretend** that it is committed to that “peace process”, and Netanyahu just can’t be bothered.

    And by refusing to play pretendies Netanyahu is leaving the USA’s donger swinging naked in the breeze, and that’s More Than A Little Embarrassing To An Emperor With No Clothes.

    That’s what this is all about.

    There are no “principles” at stake here. No “national security issue”.

    There is simply a farce that has been scripted by the USA, and they are angered because Bibi refuses to mouth the lines that have been prepared for him.

  5. Bibi is friends with the far right and assumes after the patsy Obama finishes cleaning up some of the disaster left by Bushco the powers that run the US will put the GOP back in charge and do whatever Bibi wants. That is why Bibi goes out of his way to insult Obama to please his Republican friends.

  6. Like, it is any surprise that the Israelites are a “difficult ally (sic)?” Starting way back before the IDF shot up and almost sank the USS Liberty, killing 34 US sailors and wounding 174, link to, to the whole scam of helping Our Friends the Only Democracy in the Middle East to build their pile of may 200, maybe 600, nuclear weapons. That some discount because they think it would be suicide for the Likudians to actually use. But hey, it’s not like Rulers have never committed their subjects to suicidal idiocy before, see e.g. the history of modern Europe, and Japan. Often, of course, the Rulers and the worst of The Enemy have safely skulked off to safe havens as the heavens were falling on their subjects’ heads…

    Apparently for decades, some parts of the US imperial state security apparatus have been well aware that there’s good reasons to wonder at Israelite chutzpah: “US sees Israel, tight Mideast ally, as spy threat,” link to, and even a few in the Heartland of the Homeland have been allowed to make the point in an MSM outlet: “U.S. sees Israel as No. 1 spy threat in Middle East, officials say,” link to And from the Snowden revelations, answers to “Why Are We Spying on Israel?” link to Even freakin’ FOX News once took a swing at Israelite spying in the US: link to

    You can bet that among other little secrets, Yahoo knows the contents of the Empire’s nuclear war plan, “OPLAN 8010, Strategic Deterrence and Global Strike,” and all the “Single Integrated Operating Plans” (SIOPs) that preceded OPLAN. link to, for those who mostly forget that our very own military is still moments away from ending us, and humanity generally. link to I wonder if our Really Smart Sneaky Petes and General Officers and Executive Branchers know what’s in the Israelite equivalent… Can you say, “We are putzes?”

    But of course in the Great Game, every ‘nation” does it to every other “nation,” so it’s all just hunky-dory, except for us little mopes who believe the myths, enjoy watching the shadows dance on the back of the cave, and slave and die to let the Few have their energetic, kinetic, enigmatic fun over our dead bodies…

  7. Thanks for those excellent comments spyguy, Israel has no future unless it ends the occupation, as you say it will be overwhelmed by its enemies growing tehnology and also with low tech thrown in, witness those Quassam rockets, a schoolboy could make one and at a cost of buttons, Nasrallah warned Israel that Hezbollah should close all its ports and airports in the event of another war, [Nasrallah does not make promises he does not intend to keep] Demographically Palestinians are on a par with people of Jewish origin between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, finally Ideologically, the International community will not permit the permanent imprisonment of Palestinians in Bantustans worse than South Africa.

  8. spyguy, those anti-missile defences, iron dome etc are according to Professor of science Theodore A Postol at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology quite ineffective, he calculates no better than 5% success. link to

    • I don’t know where that professor comes up with this. Star wars is one thing, but the iron dome obviously worked for Israel on the rather crude rockets in Hamas’s arsenal. The Iron Dome has a rather amazing ability to detect the trajectory of a rocket and save money by NOT shooting down ones that are going to land in an open field or unpopulated area. Is that what he’s talking about. In fact, Iron Dome’s ability to protect Israeli citizens makes Israel’s over-reactiong and disproportionate killing of civilians in Gaza even more outrageous.

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