The US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro refuted claims of a rift between US President Barack Obama and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, Sunday, as a “silly story” as he insisted the relationship between the two heads of state is “what it needs to be”.
Speculation has mounted in recent months that personal divisions between the presidents have become even more pointed as Israel is perceived to have increased pressure on the US administration to support its apparent preference for military action in Iran. Reports came to a head last month, after members of Netanyahu’s entourage criticised close Obama ally Israeli President Shimon Peres for his televised caution that Israel could not strike Iran without US backing.
Shapiro was responding to an article in Israeli daily Yediot Achronot alleging he reprimanded Netanyahu in a private meeting for his comments on Obama’s attitude to the Iranian nuclear threat. Insisting that the two administrations always “speak together in the most friendly, the most professional way”, even on points of political contention, he said that reports of discord between the two countries “don’t reflect the very close coordination and intense work we’ve done together” to respond to common concerns, such as Iran.
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu addressed his ongoing concerns to the weekly cabinet meeting about the ineffectiveness of international sanctions in forcing the Iranian regime to comply with their directives. Accusing western powers of “not setting Iran a clear red line”, he reiterated Israel’s belief that “until Iran sees a clear red line and such determination, it will not stop the progress of its nuclear project”.
Shapiro however insisted that whilst Iran has not halted its nuclear program as per international demands, “it’s clear that sanctions have has a major impact on the Iranian economy and they are really hurting”, adding that this was the first step to achieving the “ultimate goal” of forcing the Iranian regime’s hand on the nuclear issue.
Alluding once more to suggestions of a rift between Obama and Netanyahu, following Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s repeated allegations Obama has “thrown Israel under a bus” in the international arena, Shapiro added that close relations between the two administrations “starts at the top” and comprises defence and intelligence coordination.
Former coalition member, Kadima opposition MK Nachman Shai earlier revealed he had approached the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Roni Bar-On for clarification on Netanyahu’s attitude to relations with Obama. Highlighting disparities between the two leaders’ timelines, after Israel envoy Michael Oren last month declared Israel’s clock was “ticking faster” than America’s on the Iran issue, he said that all signs “indicate that Israel is stretching to the very limits and endangering its relationship with the US”.
Shai is the latest Israeli political figure to come out in open criticism of Netanyhu’s approach to close ally America, after his party leader, former Deputy PM Shaul Mofaz, last month issued a letter to Netanyahu calling for an urgent meeting to “address his intentions” on striking Iran and demanding “chat is the real goal behind widening the rift with the US?”.
Netanyahu was widely criticised in July for offering a reception usually reserved for state leaders to Republican presidential pretender Mitt Romney, showing an apparent and unprecedented preference for the pro-Israel candidate over incumbent President Obama.
Slamming this decision as “a blunt and illegitimate intervention in internal US political processes in the run-up to the presidential election”, Mofaz invoked the widely-held belief in pro-Israel circles that a Romney-led administration would be a closer friend to the Jewish State than Obama.
Peres’ personal respect for Obama is thought to have been a key factor in his televised comments, as he has previously paid tribute to his American counterpart as “a great leader, a genuine friend”.
Netanyahu, by contrast, has increasingly adopted a more insular stance to Israeli foreign policy concerns, insisting Israel can only rely on itself in matters of security, to which argument Peres responded: “Israel needs to depend on itself, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to give up on its friends.”
Speaking at a ceremony for outstanding reserve soldiers at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on Sunday, Peres meanwhile sought to draw a line under reported tensions with the Israeli premier and present a united front of the administration, insisting that Israel is fully equipped to defend itself against threats to its existence.
“Israel has its own means of protection,” he declared, “some of which were created in the past, some are currently being developed, and still others to be built in the future”. Attempting to assuage concerns over Israel’s shaky position in the volatile middle eastern landscape, he added that the “future is the dimension of hope, not just of worry”.