When it was reported last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry "not to ever second guess me again" regarding Hamas and ceasefire talks, even those aware of the sycophantic nature of U.S. policy vis-à-vis Israel had to be taken somewhat aback. No doubt the U.S. officials were too, who, as it turns out, were the ones who anonymously blabbed to the press about it. Then on Sunday, Der Spiegel reported that Israel had eavesdropped on Kerry's phone calls during Middle East peace talks last year.
Later in the day, the State Department hit back at Israel with atypically strong language for its "disgraceful shelling" of a U.N. school in Gaza housing refugees. At least 10 civilians were killed.
And earlier in the week, the White House had responded forcefully to a transcript aired on Israeli television purporting to relay what was said during a phone call between Netanyahu and President Obama. The White House said that "neither [the reports] nor alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality," and called it "shocking" and "disappointing."
Netanyahu's bluster and Israel's spying on the U.S. come as no surprise. After all, in 2001, he said on camera, "I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction."
Furthermore, according to documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden given to The Guardian last year, the NSA regards Israel as an aggressive spying threat to the U.S. government:
"On the one hand, the Israelis are extraordinarily good SIGINT [Signal Intelligence] partners for us, but on the other, they target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems. A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked them as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the U.S."
The Guardian also noted that the U.S. “routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about U.S. citizens.”
But despite the unfriendly rhetoric and aggressive spying tactics Israel employs against the U.S., and whatever slight deviations on the rhetorical norms are from coming the U.S. regarding Israel's actions, steadfast American material support for Israel remains firmly in place. The U.S. gives Israel about $3.1 billion in foreign aid annually, routinely vetoes U.N. resolutions critical of Israel at the Security Council, and shares intelligence, in addition to featuring a Congress that is so pro-Israel as to be downright embarrassing.
A new piece by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept published on Monday provides some additional insight on the U.S.-Israel relationship. Among these disclosures is that starting in 2003 (in between Netanyahu's stints as prime minister), Israel wanted the U.S. to expand the amount of intelligence it was sharing as part of a proposed program called "Gladiator," through which American taxpayers would fund Israeli activities. Although it appears the program never materialized, two receipts from the Snowden trove reveal at least one payment of $500,000 in cash from the U.S. to Israel for an unspecified "previously agreed upon" purpose.
One especially damning disclosure comes from British the intelligence service GCHQ, which also shares intelligence with Israel. Despite the cooperation between the two countries, one U.K. intelligence assessment contained a stark claim. As Greenwald reports,
British officials have a similar view of the Israelis, describing them as a “very real threat to regional stability.” One top secret GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] planning document from 2008 notes that “policy makers remain deeply concerned over the potential threat that Israel poses to a peaceful resolution of the Iran problem, and to some of Israel’s less desirable activities in the region.” Moreover, “Israel’s thinking on the long-term threat offered by Iran to its fundamental foreign policy strategy of armed deterrence may create very real threats to regional stability in 2009.”
Regarding Iran's nuclear program, Netanyahu strongly denounced the Obama administration's accord with Iran in November as "a historic mistake."
In February, Israeli officials criticized Kerry because he denounced growing calls for a boycott against Israel, but he didn't do it in the exact way they wanted him to.
In June, as the security situation in Iraq began to deteriorate as the Sunni militant group ISIS gobbled up cities in the north, Netanyahu went on Meet the Press to advise the White House not to work with Iran to help achieve stability there.
Incredibly, the sheer amount of financial, diplomatic, and military support the United States has offered Israel for decades never seems to be sufficient to satisfy the Israeli government. At a time when Israel is viewed negatively around the world and is engaged in a wildly unpopular military campaign in Gaza, the response from the Netanyahu government has been to lash out at its strongest ally and protector in the world, proving once again that the U.S. is a friend of Israel, and not the other way around.
Image credit: Avi Ohayun, Government Printing Office