Wikileaks: NSA bugged Netanyahu-Berlusconi meeting on US-Israel relations

Netanyahu in 2010 reportedly told Berlusconi that the tension with the US was heightened by the absence of direct contact between himself and Obama.

February 23, 2016 08:13
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's promised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he would help repair ties with US President Barack Obama during the nadir of ties between Jerusalem and Washington in March 2010, the Wikileaks web site reported on Tuesday.

Wikileaks published intelligence reports of a handful of conversations between world leaders from 2007 to 2011, including Netanyahu and Berlusconi’s 2010 conversation that followed the announcement of plans to build 1600 housing units in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.

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“Israel has reached out to Europe, including Italy, for help in smoothing out the current rift in its relations with the United States, according to Italian diplomatic reporting of 13 March,” a summary of the conversation read. The Ramat Shlomo announcement was made four days earlier.

Netanyahu, according to the summary, “insisted that the trigger for the dispute – Israel’s decision to build 1,600 homes in contested east Jerusalem – was totally in keeping with national policy dating back to the administration of Golda Meir, and blamed this mishandling on a government official with poor political sensitivity.”

That summary is entirely consistent with what Netanyahu was saying publicly at the time, that the Ramat Shlomo announcement was in keeping with long-standing Israeli policy in Jerusalem, and that it was not intended to embarrass Obama, Biden, or the US, but rather the result of a poorly-timed decision by a low-level bureaucrat.

According to the leaked document, Netanyahu said that the objective “is to keep the Palestinians from using this issue as a pretext to block a resumption of talks or to advance unrealistic claims that could risk sinking the peace negotiations altogether.”

Netanyahu said the tension “has only been heightened by the absence of direct contact between himself and the US president.”

In response, according to the summary of the conversation, “Berlusconi promised to put Italy at Israel’s disposal in helping mend the latter’s ties with Washington. Other Israeli officials, meanwhile, believed that this tiff goes far beyond merely the question of the construction plans, marking instead the lowest point in US-Israeli relations in memory.”

The incident severely strained ties between Netanyahu and the Obama Administration, leading to a blistering phone call from then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton and a chilly meeting in the White House on March 24, 11 days after the phone call with Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, at the time, was one of Netanyahu’s closest allies in Europe.

Wikileaks described the document as revealing “Netanyahu’s begging Berlusconi to help him deal with Obama,” divulging the website’s editorial position.

The word “begging,” however, does not appear a fair or reasonable description of what appeared in the summary of the taped conversation.

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