The other reason Benjamin Netanyahu is probably not sleeping well tonight is an American whisper campaign. Recently retired Defense Secretary and Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates called him “ungrateful,” suggesting that Israel is offering America little in return for many favors. At the same time, the New York Times has run a story on an FBI Hebrew translator who was jailed for leaking information gleaned by American espionage about Israeli efforts to influence the American political system. There was a saying among American spies operating in Moscow that “once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.” Given the sensitivity and care with which America manages its relationship with the Levantine power, we can likely lower our standards of evidence–this is a coordinated, deliberate action.
Gates’ remarks are a reasonable critique of the Netanyahu government’s approach to the United States. From Bloomberg:
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 U.S. has received nothing in return, particularly with regard to the peace process.
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.
The NSC Principals Committee referred to is the nation’s most senior body for national security policy, composed of the National Security Advisor, the Defense Secretary, the Secretary of State, and other officials as needs dictate. The fact that there were no objections thus suggests consensus within the Administration that the Israel relationship is not on the right track; the fact that it was Gates that made the remarks should be quite unsettling to Jerusalem, as he is moderate to a fault.
The tale of Gates’ objections was given to the press by anonymous “senior Administration officials,” strongly suggesting that this is a deliberate signal to the Israelis; the use of a retired official to communicate allows more rhetorical freedom (as, if the remarks have unanticipated impacts, nobody needs to be fired).
The spying case is equally interesting. It’s an open secret that Israel engages in heavy espionage activity against the United States. (This is not damning–knowing an ally’s intentions can be just as important as knowing an enemy’s.) However, there has been little coverage of America returning the favor, even though it would have been shocking to find no such activity. This is why American thinkers inclined to see Israel as a puppeteer in the U.S. political system should not be gleeful about this. If Israel’s influence in Congress, for instance, was really as strong as it looked when Netanyahu spoke there in May, espionage against Israel would have been quickly stopped by a Church Committee-like investigation. However, those who deny that Israel has a special position should also take pause–the leaks included communications between the Israeli Embassy and a member of Congress, and between the Embassy and activists working against a member outside the pro-Israel camp. Embassy officials even discussed providing op-eds to American supporters, to be published under their own names.
This latter bit of information was leaked by a liberal blogger. It is hard to say whether this was also initiated through official channels. However, it is clear that there are high-level maneuvers ongoing, aimed at making the Israelis feel isolated before the UN bid in ten days.
(Part One of this post is available here.)