Top anchors for Fox News, a bastion of Republican politics that is often stridently opposed to US President Barack Obama, have sided with the White House against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been facing a torrent of criticism over a speech he has yet to deliver.
During an on-air conversation Friday between Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith, the two roasted Netanyahu over news that he would be addressing Congress on March 3, two weeks before elections in Israel, without having coordinated his visit with the Obama administration.
Smith began by quoting Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, who had told The New York Times that “Netanyahu is using the Republican Congress for a photo-op for his election campaign and the Republicans are using Bibi [Netanyahu] for their campaign against Obama.”
“I think he’s a hundred percent right,” Wallace said of Indyk.
He went on to refer to House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, circumventing the White House, as “wicked,” and noted that Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, had neglected to mention the prime minister’s travel plans during a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, a day before the visit was announced.
“I’m shocked,” Wallace added.
“It seems like they think we don’t pay attention and that we’re just a bunch of complete morons — the United States citizens — as if we wouldn’t pick up on what’s happening here,” Smith said.
In his address, Netanyahu is expected to urge US lawmakers to slap a new round of sanctions on Iran in order to force it to comply with international demands to curb its nuclear program, a move Obama strongly opposes and has vowed to veto.
Obama and Kerry said they would not meet Netanyahu in Washington, citing the proximity of the elections in Israel.
The spat between Netanyahu and the White House escalated Friday night after US officials said Netanyahu would be “hard to trust” following the affair.
“It will be difficult to trust Netanyahu in the future,” unnamed senior US officials told Channel 2. “At a critical juncture that requires close cooperation on strategic matters, he preferred to advance his political interests while disrupting the correct working relationship” between the two governments.
The reference to “strategic matters” was understood to refer to the effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons program, an issue on which the Israeli and American governments are deeply divided.
American officials reportedly told Haaretz that Netanyahu had “spat” in Obama’s face in agreeing to speak to Congress without alerting the White House.
“We thought we’ve seen everything,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying. “But Bibi managed to surprise even us.
“There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price,” he said.
Senior Israeli sources told Channel 2 in response that given “the deep disagreements between Israel and the US” on the Iranian nuclear talks, Netanyahu felt that “he must present his stance even if that doesn’t suit Obama. This is a matter of substance.” The sources charged that the US was proving “worryingly” willing to over-compromise in the nuclear talks and was ready to allow Iran to keep more than 6,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.
The Israeli sources further said that the US administration was taking advantage of the Israeli election season to seal a deal with Iran, and that this move must be opposed, Channel 2 reported. The fear in Jerusalem is that a US-led deal with Iran “is weeks away,” the TV report said.