Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu skillfully “played” US President Donald Trump by plying him with inaccurate information to gain an upper hand, former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said this week.
Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political life after close elections on Tuesday, was “a bit Machiavellian” and would share “misinformation” with the United States, according to Trump’s former top diplomat.
Tillerson, who was fired by Trump last year, made the observations during a forum Tuesday at Harvard University as reported by The Harvard Gazette, the university’s official news outlet.
He called Netanyahu “an extraordinarily skilled” politician and diplomat, who sought “useful” relationships with foreign leaders he believed would be helpful in the future.
“In dealing with Bibi, it’s always useful to carry a healthy amount of skepticism in your discussions with him,” he was quoted as saying, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
He said Netanyahu and his aides would sometimes give Trump bad information to convince him to take Israel’s side.
“They did that with the president on a couple of occasions, to persuade him that ‘We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys.'”
“We later exposed it to the president so he understood, ‘You’ve been played,'” Tillerson said, according to the newspaper.
“It bothers me that an ally that’s that close and important to us would do that to us,” he said.
Netanyahu did not deny the account. “Israel *is* the good guy,” he said in a tweet.
Secretary Tillerson, Israel *is* the good guy. pic.twitter.com/rgaVgQgWi9
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 19, 2019
During two election campaigns this year, Netanyahu highlighted his warm relationship with Trump, who has taken long-sought Israeli positions such as recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.
Netanyahu has long pushed for a hard US line on Iran — an issue that led to open tensions with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama — and has mused about annexing parts of the West Bank, including with US support.
Trump’s White House has taken a softer tone toward Israel than previous administrations, refusing to condemn settlement building and recognizing its hold on East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Tillerson said he supported a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians — an idea unlikely to feature in a peace plan being led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser.
“I did believe that we were at a moment in time where perhaps we could chart a way where the Arab world could support an outcome that the Palestinians might not think was perfect — and in the past, if it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t happen — but with enough encouragement, pressure from the Arab world, that we could get it close enough that the Palestinians would finally agree,” he said. “And in my view, it was a two-state solution.”
But Tillerson said his strained relationship with Trump largely prevented him from taking part in drafting the Trump administration’s Mideast peace deal, and instead served as an informal adviser “to give it the highest chance of success.”
Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil executive, has mostly kept a low profile after leaving the administration.
But Trump has twice branded Tillerson “dumb as a rock” after comments seen as questioning the mogul-turned-president’s abilities.