'Blindsided': Israel uses US DoD, Congress ties to sideline White House on Gaza - report
The strain between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet has left the US in a position of an observer rather than active mediator, as Egypt leads the effort brokering ceasefire deals between Israel and Hamas, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Israel has apparently given up on bridging the gabs with the current administration and is waiting for a new one to take office, the newspaper said, citing US and Israeli officials. In the meantime Tel Aviv is using its leverage on other parts of the American leadership to get what it wants in defiance of the Obama policies.
One example of such actions came on July 20, when Israel's Defense Ministry asked the Pentagon for a range of munitions, including 120mm mortar shells, 40mm illuminating rounds and $3 million worth of tank rounds. The request was approved, but never made public, and no presidential approval was required.
A week later on July 30 Israeli troops hit a UN school in Jabaliya that sheltered about 3,000 people with 120mm and 40mm rounds. The incident sparked worldwide public condemnation and infuriated American diplomats when they realized that a transfer of the munitions to Israel came without their knowledge.
"We were blindsided," one US diplomat told WSJ.
The Pentagon defended the deal.
"There was no intent to blindside anyone. The process for this transfer was followed precisely along the lines that it should have," a US defense official said.
Following that incident, the White House blocked another Israeli request, which sought transfer of Hellfire missiles through the same military-to-military channels and instructed the military that they consulted with the White House and the Secretary of State on all further weapons deals with Israel.
A senior US administration official said the weapons transfers shouldn't have been a routine "check-the-box approval" process, given the context. The official said new US scrutiny of all such moves amounted to "the United States saying, 'The buck stops here. Wait a second…It's not OK anymore.'"
Israel also used its strong positions in the Congress to facilitate a $225 million funding bill to replenish Israel's stockpile of Iron Dome interceptor missiles. The initial plan was to pass it sometime in fall, to which Israel gave its consent. But as the tensions with the Obama administration escalated, the bill was expedited as Israelis told Congress allies that they wanted the money sooner rather than later, an aide to a US senator told WSJ.
The bill was passed on August 2 before the lawmakers went to their summer recess.
“They’re running out of Iron Dome missiles to protect themselves,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said at the time of the hearing. “We are with you. Here are the missiles.”
“We are with the Israelis, because if they don’t have the Iron Dome, they can’t defend themselves,” agreed Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).
There was also an incident of Israeli government leaking details of US diplomatic effort to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza to the press. On July 25, aides to Secretary of State John Kerry sent a draft of a confidential truce paper to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office for feedback.
The paper was presented to the Israeli cabinet, which the US didn't intend or expect, and later leaked to the press. The feedback that was expected was never sent.
Washington saw the incident as a breach of protocol and an attempt by Israel to stall time and derail Kerry's effort to bring in Qatar and Turkey, both countries having ties with Hamas, into the mediation process, the newspaper said.
The last straw for many in the American diplomatic corps came on August 2 when they say Israeli officials leaked to the media Netanyahu's statement that the Obama administration was "not to ever second-guess me again" about how to deal with Hamas, WSJ reported.
The Obama administration sees the Netanyahu government as reckless and untrustworthy, while they in response see the White House as weak and naïve, the newspaper reports its sources as saying. Israel is not too worried about the tensions due to the strong support in Congress. The prime minister thinks he can simply wait out the current administration, the newspaper says.
"We've been there before with a lot of tension with us and Washington. What we have now, on top of that, is mistrust and a collision of different perspectives on the Middle East," a top Israeli official commented. "It's become very personal."