Gov't official: Cooperation with US better than ever

Israeli officials say coordination between nations has greatly improved, but acknowledge "different voices" exist in both administrations.

obama watches netanyahu 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
obama watches netanyahu 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli–US cooperation and coordination has improved markedly over the last few months and is now better than it has been since the beginning of the Obama administration, senior government officials said Tuesday following reports of highly critical remarks former US secretary of defense Robert Gates made about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“The way we are working on the issue of unilateral Palestinian statehood at the UN, and the way we are dealing with other contentious issues, is better than ever,” one official said, saying the level of cooperation improved significantly since Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in May.
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Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, however, painted a significantly different picture in a Bloomberg column published Tuesday. He wrote, “In a meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee held not long before his retirement this summer, Gates coldly laid out the many steps the administration has taken to guarantee Israel’s security – access to top-quality weapons, assistance developing missile defense systems, high-level intelligence sharing – and then stated bluntly that the US has received nothing in return, particularly with regard to the peace process,” Goldberg wrote.
“Senior administration officials told me that Gates argued to the president directly that Netanyahu is not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank.
According to these sources, Gates’s analysis met with no resistance from other members of the committee.”
According to Goldberg, Gates’s “frustration” with Netanyahu stemmed in part from earlier disagreements over the sale of US arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
“In an encounter in Israel in March, according to US and Israeli sources, Netanyahu lectured Gates at length on the possible dangers posed to Israel by such sales, as well as by Turkey and other regional US allies,” Goldberg wrote. “Gates, a veteran intelligence officer, resented Netanyahu’s tone, and reminded him that the sales were organized in consultation with Israel and pro- Israel members of Congress.”
Israeli officials, noting Goldberg never actually heard Gates make the remarks but was relying on a second-hand report, acknowledged “there is no doubt that in the Obama administration there are different voices, just as there are different voices in the Israeli administration.” The official noted that under Gates’s watch, there has been an unprecedented level of security cooperation between Israel and the US.
While the officials said the cooperation and coordination improved significantly since the May visit, Goldberg wrote that the photo opportunity during that visit when Netanyahu told Obama in front of the cameras that Israel could not accept the pre-1967 lines as a baseline for talks “left the president and his team feeling unusually angry.”
Goldberg wrote that shortly afterward, Obama’s Chief of Staff William Daley, called US envoy Michael Oren to “communicate the displeasure of the White House,” and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “also expressed anger and frustration about the prime minister within the administration.”
The column came out on Tuesday, just a few hours before Netanyahu met with senior US Middle East officials Dennis Ross and David Hale.
The two men are in the region, along with Quartet envoy Tony Blair, looking for ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and as such keep the PA from seeking statehood recognition in two weeks at the UN.