Netanyahu and US Ambassador Clash on Policy Toward Iran

During a recent meeting in Israel, the Israeli prime minister lambasted US policymakers for pressuring Israel not to strike Iran's nuclear installations. American ambassador Dan Shapiro accused Netanyahu of twisting President Obama's positions, Shimon Shiffer reports.

al-monitor US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd L) listens to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd R) during their meeting in Jerusalem July 16, 2012. Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak (R) and US ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro (L) were also present at the meeting.  Photo by REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool.

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us, shapiro, obama, netanyahu, israel, iran, dempsey, benjamin netanyahu

Sep 1, 2012

In diplomatic parlance, "an argument" generally means a furious exchange of cables or some other type of reserved disagreement. Notwithstanding, the recent argument between Prime Minister Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro was a far cry from this definition and a decidedly undiplomatic one.

Several days ago, Mike Rogers, a Republican Congressman from Michigan and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, arrived in Israel. When he came to meet with Netanyahu, he was — in accordance with protocol — escorted by US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

According to a source who attended the meeting, Netanyahu was irate and particularly stressed out. Firing off the bat a scathing attack on the Obama administration, the premier charged that it was not doing enough on the Iranian issue. "Instead of effectively pressuring Iran, Obama and his people are pressuring us not to strike the nuclear installations," he said, moving on to lambaste the administration's statements that there was still room for diplomacy. "Time has run out," he said firmly.

At one point something very unorthodox in diplomatic circles took place in the room. Having been appointed by President Obama and considered for years as one of his closest advisers, Ambassador Shapiro decided that he had had his fill. He asked for the floor, and although he replied courteously, he left no room for doubt.

In effect, the ambassador accused Netanyahu of twisting Obama's position. He quoted the president, who had pledged not to allow Iran to become nuclearized, having stated that all means, including a military option, were on the table. Basically, Ambassador Shapiro told Netanyahu to stop talking nonsense.

Diplomatic officials privy to the incident said that "sparks and lightning" flooded the room, noting that the altercation became increasingly harsher. Netanyahu leveled accusations and Shapiro replied. The two went back and forth, while the dumbfounded Rogers watched from the sideline. The meeting eventually ended on with a harsh atmosphere in the room.

Our Washington correspondent Orly Azoulay reports that the No. 1 American Soldier, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Four-Star) General Martin Dempsey, Thursday touched on the Iranian issue, telling reporters in London after his meeting with the NATO chief: "I don’t want to be complicit if Israel decides to strike [Iran’s nuclear program].” In recent weeks, some Israelis estimated that the United States would have no choice but to join Israel in the event of a strike. Uttering it publicly for the first time, Dempsey made it clear that the US military was really not interested in that.

He added that the international coalition, which has been imposing sanctions on Iran, could fall apart if Israel were to attack prematurely. "The sanctions that have been imposed are effective and should be given a reasonable opportunity to succeed," the general concluded.

The next round between Netanyahu and the Obama administration is slated to take place after Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. However, that meeting is likely to be more low-keyed or, as better known in military jargon, "low intensity." Netanyahu is likely to meet with President Obama, who will be on the last leg of his reelection campaign and would need an all-smiles photo with the Israeli premier.

Obama is likely to reiterate the things he has said before about his resolve to stop Iran. Netanyahu, for his part, will tell reporters that he has been able to get an American promise that will allow Israel to postpone the decision to launch an independent, unilateral strike in Iran.

This, however, is not the end of the story. For every smiley meeting before the elections comes the day after the US vote. Advised of the exchange between Netanyahu and Shapiro, one official opined that if on Nov. 6 Obama remains in the Oval Office, "Netanyahu will have to seek shelter against the revenge of the American President in his second term."

Meanwhile, on the sidelines and in the back rooms of this scuffle between Obama and Netanyahu, the prime minister has decided to extend the term of Israel's ambassador to the US Michael Oren by one year. The original plan to dispatch Ron Dermer, Netanyahu's closest political adviser, has been put on hold. This appointment will have to wait for the prime minister's optimistic scenario to materialize – to see the Republican nominee Mitt Romney becoming the next president. After the "brawl" between Netanyahu and Shapiro, it seems that the prime minister has another reason to hope for this scenario to come true.

The US Embassy would not comment. 

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