Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begged his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi to help him mend ties with US President Barack Obama after a construction announcement in 2010, new documents released by WikiLeaks early Tuesday show.
The US spied on the conversations between Netanyahu and Berlusconi as well as other exchanges between world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, according to the Wikileaks release.
According to the cable, Israel reached out to the Italians as well as other European countries to help with “smoothing out the current rift in its relations with the United States.”
The dispute with Obama erupted over an Israeli announcement on March 9, 2010, while Vice President Joe Biden visited the country, that it would build 1,600 homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood.
Netanyahu told Berlusconi that there was no direct contact between him and Obama, deepening the tension, the cable reveals.
The housing announcement in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood cast a pall over Biden’s visit, drawing his condemnation of “the substance and timing of the announcement.”
The move also threatened to derail talks with the Palestinians announced a day earlier, a fear expressed by the Israeli prime minister.
“The objective now, Netanyahu said, is to keep the Palestinians from using this issue as a pretext to block a resumption of talks or to advance unrealistic claims that could risk sinking the peace negotiations altogether,” the cable reads.
Netanyahu scrambled to downplay the announcement as procedural, fingering “a government official with poor political sensitivity,” according to the cable. At the time, he blamed then-interior minister Eli Yishai.
WikiLeaks did not disclose how it obtained the cable, though it said the US’s National Security Agency obtained the info by tapping the phones of three close Berlusconi advisers. The cable is based on information gathered on March 13, 2010.
In the release, Berlusconi promises to help mend ties with Obama.
It’s not clear who else Netanyahu contacted to help try to repair relations with the US, which would become further strained in the coming years over tensions regarding the Iranian nuclear deal and moribund peace efforts with the Palestinians.
There was no immediate reaction from Netanyahu’s office. Berlusconi resigned in 2011 amid a raft of sex scandals and corruption allegations.
A month before the call detailed in the cable was made, Netanyahu hosted Berlusconi in Jerusalem and called him Israel’s best friend based on Rome’s stance against Iran.
“We are lucky that there is a leader such as yourself. I don’t believe we have a better friend in the international community,” Netanyahu said on February 1, 2010, according to a contemporary account by the Ynet news site.