Bibi be gone: Obama team plotting overthrow of Israel's Netanyahu
WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama has launched what officials termed a psychological warfare campaign meant to topple Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Sources in the administration and Congress asserted that the White House and State Department have sought to destabilize Netanyahu's government by forcing him to agree to an indefinite freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank and most of Jerusalem as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2012. They said the campaign sought to replace Netanyahu with opposition leader and former foreign minister Tsipi Livni.
"Bibi is extremely vulnerable to pressure," a source familiar with the White House effort said. "We know this from his first term in office and believe he will collapse this time as well."
The sources said the administration's strategy aimed to de-legitimize Netanyahu in his government and right-wing constituency. They said Obama and his aides have sought to portray Netanyahu as a weak and unstable politician who will destroy relations with Washington as Israel seeks U.S. support for a military option against Iran.
"There seems to be a general belief in the circle around the president that the democratically-elected government in Israel is drunk at the wheel," Steven Rosen, a veteran pro-Israeli lobbyist now with the Middle East Forum, said. "They clearly will use pressure tactics to bring Israel around."
In April 2010, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk began a series of attacks on Netanyahu in the Israeli media. Indyk, a former assistant secretary of state under then-President Bill Clinton, has called for the toppling of Netanyahu while his right-wing partners accept a more pliant prime minister.
"Indyk was sent by Obama and encouraged by his American Jewish supporters, particularly [former Rep.] Robert Wexler, to do this," the source said.
In January 2010, Wexler resigned from Congress to become head of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. The center was founded by Obama supporter Daniel Abraham and a delegation met Netanyahu in February.
The sources said the administration's campaign has included invitations to Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the White House, where he met with Obama on April 26. Barak has been regarded as the most pro-U.S. minister in Netanyahu's Cabinet and has been lobbying ministers to accept Obama's proposals.
"It's not going to be easy to turn this thing around," Rosen told a briefing on April 21. "Some of my friends in Jerusalem believe this crisis will go on for an extended period."
The anti-Netanyahu fervor has alarmed pro-Israeli members in Congress, particularly from the Democratic Party. Several of the Democrats have reported a sharp drop in funds by Jewish donors for congressional elections in November.
"This [campaign against Netanyahu] is counterproductive and has to stop," Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has threatened to issue a condemnation of the White House, said.
Some in the pro-Israeli community detect an anti-Semitic tinge to the White House campaign, despite the involvement of Jewish aides. On April 21, National Security Advisor James Jones stunned an audience at the pro-Israel Washington Institute when he told a joke of a Jewish merchant who tricked a thirsty Taliban fighter into buying a tie.
"I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks," Jones later said. "I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: That the United States' commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct."
Former State Department official Aaron Miller said Obama has surrounded himself with aides who blame Netanyahu for the suspension of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Miller said many of the aides had encountered Netanyahu during his first tenure as prime minister from 1996 to 1999.
"They had seen the Benjamin Netanyahu movie before and were determined not to let their chance at Middle East peace end the same way," Miller said in the magazine Foreign Policy. "Confronted with Netanyahu again, Obama and his team needed no encouragement to talk tough on the growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an issue that experts inside and outside government were clamoring for Obama to raise as the first step in his renewed push for peace. Fresh from his victory on health care, he's [Obama] king of the world again and in no mood to let the king of Israel frustrate his plans."
US Gulf units may not fire on Iranian military without White House say-so
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 29, 2010, 7:42 PM (GMT+02:00)Tags: USS Eisenhower Iranian spy plane Persian Gulf
USS Eisenhower carrierThe US Fifth Fleet and US aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower in the Gulf of Oman were not allowed to shoot at an Iranian Fokker F27 aircraft which on April 21 hovered for 20 minutes 900 meters over the carrier and no more than 250 meters away, even though they saw its flight crew gathering intelligence on the Eisenhower and its warship escorts.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that the US Persian Gulf command went public on the incident on April 28, a whole week later, only after Gulf military circles, amazed at the American naval and air units' passivity in the face of hostile surveillance, threatened to break the story to local media.
This striking restraint indicates that the US Gulf and Arabian fleets are under orders to take no action - certainly not to open fire - against Iranian naval or air units, with first obtaining permission directly from Washington.
Military, naval and aviation sources told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the Iranian spy plane was 10 second away from flying directly over the Eisenhower and could easily have been shot down.
To try and explain this incident away, US naval sources Wednesday, April 28, claimed the Iranian plane was unarmed and its encounter with the US carrier was not of a threatening nature, although irregular.
Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, tried to play down the importance of the incident by saying: "The Iranians (pilots) were not provocative or threatening. As long as they are professional and not threatening or reckless, it's international space."
But officials of the Gulf emirate navies think otherwise. They say it was the first time that an Iranian spy plane ventured so close to an American aircraft carrier and the US non-response will encourage Tehran to go for bolder and more provocative actions.
Of late, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, especially Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have become extra-sensitive of late to the raised US response threshold to threatening moves by Iran, after witnessing the sinking of a South Korean warship and the handling of the case by Washington.
The South Korean Cheonan, a 1,200-ton corvette, was sunk on March 26, apparently by a naval mine that was planted by the North Korean navy in the Baengnyeong Island area, whose sovereignty is in dispute between Seoul and Pyongyang. Right after the incident, in which 46 South Korean sailors were lost, the Obama administration hastened to issue a statement denying evidence of North Korean involvement - even though South Korean intelligence demonstrated that a North Korean mine, or midget submarine of a type of in the possession of the Iranian Navy, was responsible for sinking the corvette.
Undersecretary of State James Steinberg, who deals with Iranian affairs, said on March 29 that he had heard nothing to implicate any other country in the tragedy.
This was taken in Gulf capitals to show the Obama administration was ready to lean backwards to avoid military action against North Korea - even on the part of the injured party, South Korea. They see a close correlation between the provocative tactics employed by Pyongyang and Tehran, whose nuclear and missile programs are likewise coordinated. These Gulf sources, talking to debkafile, wondered out loud if the United States would also turn a blind eye to an Iranian attack that cause the sinking of a Saudi, UAE or Israeli ship sailing in the Gulf.
And another parallel is worth noting: Just as the two Koreas are at odds over the Baengnyeong Islands, so too the UAE claims the owners of three islands near the Straits of Hormuz – Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa - accusing Tehran of seizing them by force for the use of Revolutionary Guard naval bases.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources say that the Iranian spy plane that flew over the USS Eisenhower on April 21 apparently took off from an Iranian military airfield on the island of Abu Musa.
Far from giving up their claim to the three islands, on April 20, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan said there is no difference between the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, South Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, and Iranian occupation of these islands.
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