The high-stakes conversations Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu held in Washington with President Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton on March 23-24 only deepened the crisis marring relations between the two governments, debkafile's Washington sources report.
Netanyahu, defense minister Ehud Barak and their aides, received a strong impression that the White House's hand was behind certain European steps to drive Israeli into a corner on the points at issue. For example, even if the British government needed no encouragement to pick a fight with Israel over an unproven link with the forged passports used by the Dubai killers, Washington knew about the British plan to expel an Israeli diplomat. Its silence was taken by London as a go-ahead and a signal to the Netanyahu government that punishment could be coming from Washington too and that Israel could pay for defying the Obama administration with broad international isolation. France is also considering lining up behind this campaign.
President Obama showed his displeasure with the Israeli government's failure to cave in to his demands – especially after Netanyahu's declaration that Jerusalem is no settlement but "our capital" to the AIPAC conference Monday – by ordering all the Israeli prime minister's meetings in Washington to take place without statements, news coverage or the cameras which normally record smiles and handshakes between friendly leaders.
The warm public bipartisan welcome he received on Capital Hill was followed by the cold, peremptory shower given him at the White House.
"We in Congress stand by Israel," the Democrat leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said. "In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel."
"We have no stronger ally anywhere in the world than Israel," said the House Republican leader, John Boehner. "We all know we're in a difficult moment."
At their first 90-minute encounter, the president made clear what he expected the Israeli prime minister to do on Jerusalem, West Bank settlements and Iran and where he drew the line. Every effort by Netanyahu and, behind the scenes, Barak and their advisers, to ease the pressure fell on deaf ears.
As the tension climbed in the Oval Office, Netanyahu asked to consult privately with his staff and after an hour, asked to see Obama again. A second 35-minute conversation followed, after which the Israeli leader left without achieving any breakthrough on their differences.
debkafile's Middle East sources report that this latest turn of events in US-Israeli relations makes naught of American leaders' constant affirmations of commitment to Israel's security. Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are acutely sensitive to the slightest crack in American support for Israel and ready with tactics for widening the rift. They will now drive hard to separate the Obama administration from America's historic military backing for the Jewish state.