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US Government

Obama Official Says Netanyahu ‘Spat in President’s Face,’ Vows Payback

Netanyahu and Obama meet at the White House; May 18, 2009. (White House photo)

Netanyahu and Obama meet at the White House; May 18, 2009. (White House photo)

A ‘spat’ between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu escalated on Friday, as a White House official blasted the leader of one of America’s closest allies — and vowed retaliation for his perceived disrespect.

Times of Israel reports the White House is enraged at Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress during an upcoming US visit.

Netanyahu failed to coordinate the move with Obama, the leader of Israel’s closest ally and largest benefactor. The president is concerned that Netanyahu will use the speech to urge tougher sanctions against Iran, fatally derailing a potential nuclear deal being worked out between Washington and Tehran and thwarting a possible rapprochement between two long-estranged nations with common regional enemies.

An unnamed White House official told the leading Israeli daily Haaretz that Netanyahu “spat” in Obama’s face.

“We thought we’ve seen everything,” the official said, “but Bibi managed to surprise even us.”

“There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave,” he continued. “Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

The official said that the infamous “chickenshit” comment uttered by another senior Obama official was mild compared to language heard in the White House when it learned of Netanyahu’s planned speech.

White House spokesman Josh Ernest suggested Wednesday that Netanyahu had made a “departure from protocol” by not informing Obama of the prime minister’s plans.

“The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he is traveling there. That is certainly how President Obama’s trips are planned,” Ernest said. “We haven’t heard from the Israelis directly about the trip at all,” he continued, adding that the administration would “reserve judgment” until further explanation is forthcoming.

Obama previously said he would not meet with Netanyahu in March, citing the proximity of Israel’s March 17 elections.

“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.

According to Haaretz, Obama had personally demanded that Netanyahu soften his aggressive efforts to convince leading US officials to support more severe sanctions against Iran over what hard-line US and Israeli conservatives believe is the Islamic Republic’s nascent nuclear program. US and Israeli military and intelligence officials, however, have insisted that Iran is not working to develop nuclear weapons.

It does not appear as if Netanyahu will bow to Obama’s demands. The prime minister’s speech to Congress is not likely to determine the future of proposed bipartisan legislation to toughen sanctions on Iran, whose 77 million people are already reeling from decades of US-led international isolation.

Netanyahu’s efforts to sway the US to act in Israel’s interests date back to the Clinton administration. In a 2001 speech he did not know was being recorded, Netanyahu boasted about manipulating the US during the Oslo peace process.

“I know what America is,” Netanyahu told a group of terrorism victims. “America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in [the] way.”

The Washington Post reports Secretary of State John Kerry is particularly angry at Netanyahu’s disrespectful behavior.

“The bilateral relationship [between the US and Israel] is unshakable,” a source close to Kerry told the Post. “But playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.”

Kerry previously infuriated Israeli officials when he mocked their claims that the IDF’s ferocious 2014 air, land and sea war against Islamist militants in Gaza was being conducted with pinpoint precision. Unaware he was being recorded as he spoke with an aide between television interviews during the war, Kerry sardonically called Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, in which entire neighborhoods were destroyed and thousands of people were killed, a “hell of a pinpoint operation.”

The tensions between Obama and Netanyahu go back to the early years of the administration, when the latter repeatedly ignored the former’s demands for a halt in settlement expansion. In January 2010, Netanyahu defiantly declared Israel would never give up Palestinian territory conquered in the 1967 Six Day War.

Two months later, Netanyahu visited Washington, DC, where Obama presented him with a list of 13 demands, including a settlement freeze in occupied East Jerusalem. When the prime minister balked, Obama demonstrated his fury by skipping a planned family dinner with him.

Despite long-running Republican alarm over what conservatives call a “crisis” in US-Israeli relations during the Obama administration, Netanyahu has said he will thank the president for his support of Israel during his congressional speech.

Neither is any “crisis” evident as measured by US financial support for Israel, which continues to average around $3 billion in annual aid to a government and military which have been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations and other leading international organizations for policies and actions that critics, including former US President Jimmy Carter, have called illegal aggression, apartheid and even ethnic cleansing.

The latest spat between US and Israeli leaders comes as Israel is under intense international scrutiny for its continuing illegal Jewish settler colonization of Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank and East Jersualem, as well as for its conduct during last year’s Gaza offensive, during which 1,523 civilians, including hundreds of children, were killed,entire families were wiped out, hundreds of thousands were displaced and whole neighborhoods were leveled.

Israel’s bloody offensive, which was launched in response to thousands of rockets fired into its territory by Gaza-based Hamas and other Islamist militants, shocked the conscience of much of the world, leading even the US State Department to issue a rare condemnation of the slaughter.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported Israeli troops deliberately killing unarmed civilians and its own rescue workers. An inquiry has been launched by the International Criminal Court to investigate these and other alleged war crimes.

In addition to the ICC inquiry, the European Union recently announced it is considering sanctioning Israel over the settlements.

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