PM said to have ignored warnings by ministers, aides against openly criticizing US

Israeli TV says minister Dermer supported public confrontation with US but wanted Netanyahu to delay video statement until after officials’ scheduled Thursday White House meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president's guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/ GPO/ File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president's guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/ GPO/ File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the decision to publicly criticize US President Joe Biden’s administration even though ministers and advisers had recommended against it, according to Israeli television reports aired Wednesday.

Channels 13 and 12 said a clandestine meeting held before Netanyahu’s Tuesday video statement — which accused Washington of withholding arms shipments to Israel, calling it “inconceivable” — included National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and other officials, all of whom unequivocally objected to Netanyahu’s intention.

Though Dermer was in favor of a public confrontation after previously discussing the idea with Netanyahu, he asked the premier to wait with the criticism until he and Hanegbi meet US officials at the White House on Thursday, the network said.

Both Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi were reportedly opposed to airing the dispute publicly, instead preferring to handle matters behind closed doors over concerns a public rift with the US could benefit the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups.

Channel 13 quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official as saying that “Netanyahu made the decision against the opinion of the advisers and ministers with whom he consulted.”

The official added that the prime minister’s remarks caused “great outrage in the Biden administration,” which earlier strongly denied reports it canceled high-level talks between American and Israeli security in protest of the video, saying the meeting had merely been moved due to a scheduling conflict.

Israeli and US National Security Advisers Tzahi Hanegbi (right) and Jake Sullivan speak with their UAE and Bahrain counterparts, via video from Jerusalem, on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In a report by the Haaretz daily, US officials accused Netanyahu of “ungratefulness,” denying any holdup of arms beyond a shipment of heavy bombs that Biden has withheld over concerns they could be used in densely populated areas of Rafah.

The officials also fumed over the timing of Netanyahu’s statement, noting it followed recent visits by senior administration figures who are seeking to secure a hostage-for-ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas and put a lid on related cross-border fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah on the Lebanon border.

“Anything he wants to tell us, he could have told [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken and [special envoy Amos] Hochstein,” one official told the newspaper. “There was no reason to publish a video like that.”

A separate report by the Axios news site cited Biden administration officials who charged that Netanyahu’s actions were interfering with US efforts to deescalate the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, saying they were concerned his conduct would create “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem and cast a pall over Sullivan’s meeting with Hanegbi and Dermer.

“It is hard to fathom how a video like the one Netanyahu released on Tuesday helps with deterrence. There is nothing like telling Hezbollah that the US is withholding weapons from Israel, which is false, to make them feel emboldened,” a senior US official said.

All the officials quoted by the news site said they believed there was no clear aim to Netanyahu’s conduct beyond domestic politicking, with some speculating it may have been part of jockeying with Gallant ahead of the latter’s expected visit to Washington next week.

Netanyahu himself is due to soon visit the US, with an address to a joint session of Congress scheduled for July 24.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks against the US-led international nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

According to the Kan public broadcaster, additional Democrats are now considering boycotting Netanyahu’s speech in light of the video, saying it could be the decisive factor for those on the fence.

On Tuesday, US Senator Elizabeth Warren said she would boycott the speech, accusing Netanyahu of having “created a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

“He has also made clear that he does not support US policy for a two-state solution that will let the people of Israel and Palestinians develop their own nation self-determination, live with dignity,” she told reporters, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Representative Ro Khanna, Representative Jim Clyburn and Senator Bernie Sanders have also said in recent days that they would not be attending Netanyahu’s speech and they are expected to be joined by dozens of other progressive lawmakers.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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