Intelligence Report: Shattering the image

The clash between Netanyahu and Obama could torpedo the perception of Israel as a gateway to Washington.

(photo credit: JASON REED / REUTERS)
On February 26, 2006, “close associates” of Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei sent a top-secret message to the government of Israel. The message contained an unusual request. Iran asked Israel for help “to establish a direct, albeit discreet, line to the US.
So why, out of all the nations on earth, did the regime of the ayatollahs request help from one of its bitterest enemies, which it defines as the “small Satan?” Because, according to the message, the regime “realizes the importance of the Israeli position for that to happen.”
The message came via an Israeli businessman who served in the past in a senior position in the Prime Minister’s Office. He got it from his associates in an Asian country where he and his company operated at the time. In the message, Iran explained that its “official position is to seek a comprehensive dialogue with the US. The dialogue is to cover all issues of mutual interest… including the nuclear issue, Iraq, Hamas, Afghanistan and Hezbollah.”
In another section of the message, Iran even showed its willingness, “if this indeed is necessary and possible,” to consider “a discussion with Israelis first.”
The Israeli businessmen submitted the Iranian request to Giora Eiland, then head of the National Security Council under former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Eiland and other key officials, including former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, discussed the Iranian request and eventually, after nearly four months, during which another message arrived from Iran, it was decided that Israel would not respond.
Aware that former US president George Bush’s administration opposed any contact with Iran, which had been earlier defined by the US as part of the “axis of evil,” Israel decided that even admitting its involvement in brokering a dialogue between Iran and the US would anger Washington and damage Israeli-US relations.
In all likelihood, this surprising diplomatic endeavor would not have borne any tangible results. However, it reveals the aura Israel enjoys, even among its most bitter enemies – the aura of a country that, out of the 200 or so on the globe, is perceived as having the most influence on America.
However, this image is now on the verge of being shattered – not because of any orchestrated campaign by Israel’s bashers, but due to self-inflicted damage by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Many commentators have already criticized Netanyahu’s bashing of the interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that was reached in November between the five big powers and Germany (P5+1) and Iran, noting that the prime minister is undermining the strategic alliance between Washington and Jerusalem. A senior US official recently said that the relations between the two allies had reached their lowest point in many years.
But over and above the damage to the bilateral relations, there is another no-lessworrying fallout from Netanyahu’s assault on the agreement and the administration of President Barack Obama: It may affect Israel’s trade relations, diplomatic encounters, and arms and security exports with many countries in the world.
By building and consolidating its special relations – unprecedented between a superpower and a tiny country – with the US over decades, Israel also elevated itself to an imaginary status as the “door-opener” to Washington.
Such an image is undoubtedly rooted in a biased perception, if not fully fledged anti- Semitism – the notion that “Jews control America.” There is a grain of truth in it.
AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby, the solidarity of the Jewish-American community, the access to Congress, the dominance of American Jews in the media, the contributions of wealthy Jewish businessmen to the political parties – all helped to create the impression that Israel can perform miracles in the US.
Despite the subtle anti-Semitic innuendo, Israel has never rushed to deny or quash this assumption. On the contrary, it worked to inflate it to disproportional dimensions.
“The impression that we manage Washington,” says Dr. Nimrod Novick, “has been a central component in building Israeli deterrence, in enhancing Israeli foreign policy and in cementing our defense posture.” Novick served as a diplomatic adviser to former prime minister ShimonPeres in the 1980s and early 1990s, and later moved into the private sector, working for Yossi Maiman’s Israel-based international development and financing firm, Merhav.
“During the decade [2000-10], we operated in Turkmenistan – a vast country located in central Asia with huge natural gas reserves,” relates Novick. “Why did we, an Israeli firm, secure many tenders and manage the country’s projects? Why did they prefer us over maybe more experienced and surely bigger Japanese, German, British or French companies? Because of the myth that we could help them to establish a dialogue with the US, where they had a bad image and bad public relations due to their poor record in human rights. My personal experience, I am certain, has been shared by other Israeli businessmen in other countries.”
Indeed, ask Israeli diamond dealer Dan Gertler, who is a close friend of Congo ruler Joseph Kabila. Gertler has been involved in efforts to hire lobbyists and PR firms in America to help clean the tarnished image of Kabila and his regime – once again due to their abuses of human rights and high level of corruption.
Countries, leaders and private businessmen rushed over the years to the Mossad, to the Foreign Ministry, to private Israeli businessmen, with the requests for help in America.
There are many examples to prove it. When relations were good, Turkey asked Israel to use AIPAC to repel Congressional efforts to pass bills to mark the Armenian genocide.
Egypt under Hosni Mubarak asked Israel for help in its campaigns in America against human rights organizations.
In return for its assistance, Israel reaped dividends in rallying diplomatic support and votes from grateful nations in the UN and other international organizations, in clinching arms deals worth billions, and in improving trade relations with many countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
The bitter clash between Netanyahu and the Obama administration could divert this strong current. It could weaken the Israeli omnipotent image. States may say: If you, the Israelis, failed to persuade the US to change the agreement with Iran in your favor, it shows that your influence in Washington is diminishing. If this is the case, why do we need you? The sooner Netanyahu stops his inflammatory and vociferous opposition to the Iran deal, the better for Israel’s vital interests around the world.