Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened his inner cabinet Saturday night, March 12, to discuss the spiraling crisis with Washington and his first response.
debkafile's military and Washington sources report: The Obama administration is considering withholding from Israel military items urgently needed in case of a flare-up of hostilities with Iran. This would further ratchet up the mounting row over Israel's decision to build another 1,600 homes in E. Jerusalem. The requests were filed by defense minister Ehud Barak as recently as Feb. 26, when he visited Washington and met defense secretary Robert Gates and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
In an exceptionally harsh phone call to Netanyahu Friday, March, Clinton herself hinted at this possibility while administering a dressing-down on the East Jerusalem housing decision and its announcement during Vice president Joe Biden's visit.
Reporting on that phone call, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley disclosed: "The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security."
Washington correspondents interpreted this as a threat to withhold items vital for Israel's security unless the prime minister reversed that decision (which Palestinians now demand as the precondition for resuming peace talks).
Our military sources report that the Barak arms list is tailored to a potential four-front offensive against Israel launched by Iran and its allies. It includes systems needed by the Israeli Air Force, certain types of missiles and advanced electronic equipment. During his last visit, the defense minster complained the list had been pending in Washington for more than three months and the sands for a possible conflict were running out fast. He stressed that it was essential for these items to reach Israel before a flare-up occurred. The urgency was such that he suggested that if they could not be supplied to Israel at short notice, they should at least be held ready meanwhile in the emergency stores of the US bases in Israel's Negev.
Gates promised Barak to study the list and let him have his answer in the coming days, but none has so far been received.
Some circles in the United States and many in Israel say the Obama administration is blowing the crisis up with deliberate intent. American-Jewish criticism was led Saturday night by the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman, who issued this statement: "We are shocked and stunned at the Administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem," he said. "One can only wonder how far the US is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians."
Defense sources in Washington reported Saturday the view that the Obama administration, which has never cultivated warm relations with the Netanyahu government, has seized on the Jerusalem housing spat as a device for restraining Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear sites, a step which the White House strenuously opposes.