Israel conveyed a series of bitter protests to the White House and to others in the US administration over the weekend over the Obama administration’s confirmation that it was the Israeli Air Force that struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia last Wednesday.
Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the strike, one of half a dozen such attacks widely ascribed to Israel in recent months, but an Obama administration official told CNN on Thursday that Israeli warplanes had indeed attacked the Syrian base, and that the target was “missiles and related equipment” set for delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
This US confirmation, which was not the first case of the administration leaking word of Israeli strikes in Syria, risked causing a flare-up that could “endanger the security of Israel and the region as a whole,” Israel claimed in its protest messages to the US according to a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Sunday.
Israel’s fury was conveyed directly to the White House, as well as during meetings and conversations between senior Israeli officials and their US counterparts in the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department, the report said.
Israel’s shocked complaints produced no American explanation or reaction whatsoever, the report went on, which Israeli officials ascribe to embarrassment on behalf of the administration. Israel believes the leaks may be “a consequence of negligence.”
Jerusalem was said to be baffled as to why the Americans would repeatedly leak word of Israeli raids in Syria, when there were all manner of back channels by which the US could convey concern over such strikes if it wanted to do so. In fact, as far as Israel is aware, the report said, “the United States does not have complaints about such Israeli activities.”
Israeli officials stressed that Israel was still not confirming responsibility for the strike last Wednesday.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV on Friday night quoted Israeli officials branding the American leak as “scandalous.” For Israel’s ally to act in such a way was “unthinkable,” the officials were quoted as saying.
A second TV report, on Israel’s Channel 2, said the leak “came directly from the White House,” and noted that “this is not the first time” that the administration has compromised Israel by leaking information on such Israeli Air Force raids on Syrian targets.
It said some previous leaks were believed to have come from the Pentagon, and that consideration had been given at one point to establishing a panel to investigate the sources, but that Thursday’s leak had come directly from the White House.
Channel 2’s military analyst, Roni Daniel, said the Obama administration’s behavior in leaking the information was unfathomable.
Daniel noted that by keeping silent on whether it carried out such attacks, Israel was maintaining plausible deniability, so that Syria’s President Bashar Assad did not feel pressured to respond to the attacks.
But the US leaks “are pushing Assad closer to the point where he can’t swallow these attacks, and will respond.” This in turn would inevitably draw further Israeli action, Daniel posited, and added bitterly: “Then perhaps the US will clap its hands because it will have started a very major flare-up.”
Channel 2 speculated that the US might have leaked word of Israel’s attack as a warning to Israel to desist from such actions. Alternately, it might be seeking to signal that it was part of the tough policy designed to prevent a flow of sophisticated weaponry to Assad. But these and other possible explanations simply didn’t justify the leak, which the TV report described as “illogical” and “foolish.”
Jerusalem’s reported anger with the White House over the leak coincided with efforts by the administration to assure Israel that it is holding to a tough line on Syria and in the effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, and is maintaining its robust military partnership with Israel.
On Thursday, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, reiterated America’s commitment to thwarting Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions.
“Let me be absolutely clear: President Obama is determined to ensure that the Islamic Republic does not acquire a nuclear weapon,” Power said at the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial conference held Thursday in a Manhattan hotel. Addressing the subject of nuclear negotiations with Iran, she said the Obama administration considers a bad deal worse than no deal and that the administration will not accept a bad deal.
Later Thursday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the same gathering that the US is testing Iran’s diplomatic intentions but remains “clear-eyed” on Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terror and exporter of extremism.
Hagel also announced that the US will fast-track delivery of six advanced Osprey helicopter-airplanes to Israel. “Israel will get six V-22s out of the next order to go on the assembly line, and they will be compatible with other [Israeli defense] capabilities,” Hagel said, anticipating delivery in two years’ time. NBC News said Israel requested that the delivery of the Ospreys be expedited because of threats from Iran and Syria.
Hagel added that “the Israeli and American defense relationship is stronger than ever, and it will continue to strengthen.”
Nonetheless, the ADL’s national director Abraham Foxman, who has close ties to the Israeli leadership, told the conference that American wariness of foreign military involvement is making it seem “weak and retreating.” In unusually bitter comments, Foxman declared, “The combination of America’s unsatisfactory involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, together with the financial crisis at home, have generated a broader opposition to American military involvement overseas.”
Citing among other developments the recent congressional resistance to authorizing a strike on Syria, Foxman said: “America is being seen as weak and retreating… The world looks at our choices, looks at our public opinion polls, looks at congressional reactions, looks at the paralysis in Washington on budgeting matters and wonders.”
The perception of weakness could harm US efforts to get Iran to end its nuclear push, Foxman warned. “I hope that we get our act together.”
Israel has been accused of striking Syrian sites several times in the recent past, including in January and May of this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.