Netanyahu ‘a chickenshit’, say enraged US officials
Israeli PM heavily criticised as more interested in political survival than peace
Binyamin Netanyahu: accused by a US source as only interested “in protecting himself from political defeat”. Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
US relations with Israel have plunged to new depths of bitterness and hostility as senior officials in the Obama administration decried Binyamin Netanyahu as a “chickenshit prime minister”, “coward” and more interested in his political survival than peace.
The furious assessment delivered in anonymous but no-holds barred comments in an interview with American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic underline a state of anger with Mr Netanyahu characterised as “red hot”.
The remarks are particularly telling in having been made to Goldberg, a Washington insider who has interviewed Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu, and who warned US-Israeli relations were in a “full-blown crisis” that could only get worse after the mid-term elections.
The comments underline the dismal state of relations between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations after a series of damaging announcements by Israel – including again this week – regarding its determination to push ahead with settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The temperature of relations plunged again last week when Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon was snubbed by senior administration officials during a visit last week to Washington, which itself followed a public warning from the White House that Israel risked alienating its “closest allies”.
Despite the deepening frustration in Washington, Mr Netanyahu continued to hit back over the latest settlement announcement, saying US criticism was “detached from reality”, even on the eve of the publication of the latest remarks.
“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” said one official quoted in the Atlantic. “The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars. The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states.
“The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not (Yitzhak) Rabin, he’s not (Ariel) Sharon, he’s certainly no (Menachem) Begin. He’s got no guts.”
In a more diplomatic and public statement on recent settlement announcements, US national security council spokesman Alistair Baskey insisted the US would continue to criticise Israel.
“There are times when we disagree with actions of the Israeli government and we must raise our concerns, such as our concerns about Israel’s settlement policy,” he said. “We raise these concerns as a partner who is deeply concerned about Israel’s future and wants to see Israel living side by side in peace and security with its neighbours.”
In comments designed to further sting Mr Netanyahu, who has expended huge diplomatic effort on attempting to derail any deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, another official suggested the White House no longer believed Mr Netanyahu would launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent it obtaining nuclear weapons.
“It’s too late for him to do anything,” said the official. “Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger . . . Now it’s too late.”
The comments are the latest in a series of high-profile spats between Washington and Netanyahu’s government. Relations began their sharp decline when Mr Yaalon accused US secretary of state John Kerry of being “obsessive and messianic” in his pursuit of a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Later, in off-the-record remarks, Kerry warned that Israeli risked becoming “an apartheid state”.
Responding to the remarks in the Atlantic late last night, Israel’s far-right economics minister, Naftali Bennett, used his Facebook page to call for Washington to renounce the comments. Guardian