US envoy dismisses report of bust-up with PM as ‘a very silly story’

‘I always speak respectfully with the prime minister,’ says Dan Shapiro, adding that Netanyahu-Obama relationship is exactly ‘what it needs to be’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, in Tel Aviv in 2011 (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, in Tel Aviv in 2011 (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)

The US ambassador to Israel on Sunday denied having had a verbal bust-up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting last month, dismissing a report to that effect that led the front-page of Israel’s biggest-selling daily newspaper on Friday as “a very silly story.”

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth article, Ambassador Dan Shapiro grew enraged by Netanyahu’s remarks about President Barack Obama’s handling of the Iranian threat, broke diplomatic protocol, and snapped at the PM for misrepresenting the president’s position. “Sparks and lightning were flying,” an unnamed source told the paper.

In an interview with Channel 2 News, when asked about the newspaper account of the closed-door meeting — at which Shapiro was accompanying visiting Congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers — the ambassador was dismissive.

“That’s a very silly story,” Shapiro said. “The published account of that meeting did not reflect what actually occurred in the meeting. The conversations were entirely friendly and professional. They always are. I always speak respectfully with the prime minister, just as the prime minister always speaks respectfully with me. And that really characterizes all of the dialogue between our governments.”

The envoy continued: “We’re such close allies, we have so many common interests… that we speak together in the most friendly, the most professional way. Even on an occasion that we have a disagreement, that’s how we work together. And that was certainly the case in the (recent) meeting.”

There was no argument, no verbal skirmish, no disagreement, the interviewer persisted? “Sorry to disappoint you,” Shapiro responded.

Earlier in the interview, Shapiro said there was “definitely a narrative in the media right now, I’d say an overheated one, about tension between the United States and Israel over the issue of Iran. I understand why people like to write those stories. And there’s a new version every day. But the truth is they don’t reflect the very close coordination and very intense work we’ve done together to address an issue that we perceive the same way, which is the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

He added: “We fully recognize that Israel is a sovereign country and will make its own decisions about its security. Israel is a strong country and has done that throughout its history. We’re also trying to remain as coordinated as possible. I believe we’re going to be able to continue to do that.”

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting that the international community has failed to send a clear message to Iran regarding its nuclear program. Netanyahu said that while international sanctions have harmed Tehran, they haven’t done “anything to stall the progress of the nuclear program.”

Shapiro commented: “We absolutely agree that so far we have not achieved our goal of stopping the Iranian nuclear program. It’s clear that sanctions have had a major impact on the Iranian economy and they are really hurting. It’s also clear that they have not yet changed the Iranian leadership’s decision-making about the nuclear program. That’s the ultimate goal.”

While the US would continue to intensify the sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Iran, Shapiro said the military option remained on the table should all other means fail. He emphasized that, despite the lack of a specific timetable given to Iran, Obama had been “perfectly clear about what the United States is prepared to do to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro called the Iranian threat “unacceptable,” and said that the United States is concerned for Israeli and American interests as well as global security. The military option was “available,” he said again.

Shapiro said that Obama and Netanyahu speak regularly, and that the relationship between the two men was exactly “what it needs to be.” He said the “close coordination” between the US and Israel “starts at the top.” Shapiro also cited continued American military assistance and ongoing intelligence coordination.

Shapiro was speaking against the background not only of the Yedioth story, but also a reported scaling-down of joint US-Israel missile defense exercises in October, and public comments by the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, who said last Thursday that he did want to be “complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran.

On Sunday, MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) said that he approached chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Roni Bar-On (Kadima) demanding an urgent meeting on ties with the US that would include the prime minister and defense minister.

Shai said that the United States had stated both openly and subtly its dissatisfaction with Israel’s policies and actions. “The warnings of [American] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the scaling back of joint military exercises and the crisis of confidence between President Obama and Netanyahu, all indicate that Israel is stretching to the very limits and endangering its relationship with the US.”

Speaking at a ceremony for outstanding reserve soldiers at the president’s residence earlier Sunday, President Shimon Peres said that “Israel today is stronger than ever.”

“The Middle East is stormy and filled with threats, both old and new. We cannot take them lightly, but neither should we be frightened by them,” said Peres.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking at the same event, sounded less positive. He compared Israel’s neighbors to a “turbulent sea,” and said that some of those around Israel “are unwilling to accept us” as a fellow nation with the same rights as all others.

“The reality in which we live,” Barak said, “presents us with serious challenges, and the necessity to make best use of our resources in preparing for any eventuality.”

The IDF will provide the answer when the command is given, Barak pledged. It will “protect the security and the future {of Israel}.”

Peres had a similar message about Israel’s resources, saying that “Israel has its own means of protection — some of which were created in the past, some are currently being developed, and still others to be built in the future.” Stressing that Israel’s defense is neither static nor predictable, Peres added that the “future is the dimension of hope, not just of worry.”


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