Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in Bloomberg shows exactly how the Israel lobby has warped the U.S. political system. The lobby has such a stranglehold on U.S. policy towards Israel that a Secretary of Defense’s distaste for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu means nothing to the Obama administration’s polices on Israel.
It was Robert M. Gates, the now-retired secretary of defense, who seemed most upset with Netanyahu. In a meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee held not long before his retirement this summer, Gates coldly laid out the many steps the administration has taken to guarantee Israel’s security — access to top- quality weapons, assistance developing missile-defense systems, high-level intelligence sharing — and then stated bluntly that the U.S. has received nothing in return, particularly with regard to the peace process.
Senior administration officials told me that Gates argued to the president directly that Netanyahu is not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank. According to these sources, Gates’s analysis met with no resistance from other members of the committee.
Gates has expressed his frustration with Netanyahu’s government before. Last year, when Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel was marred by an announcement of plans to build new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, Gates told several people that if he had been Biden, he would have returned to Washington immediately and told the prime minister to call Obama when he was serious about negotiations.
Gates’s frustration also stems from squabbling with Netanyahu over U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies. In an encounter in Israel in March, according to U.S. and Israeli sources, Netanyahu lectured Gates at length on the possible dangers posed to Israel by such sales, as well as by Turkey and other regional U.S. allies. Gates, a veteran intelligence officer, resented Netanyahu’s tone, and reminded him that the sales were organized in consultation with Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.
Yet the U.S. relationship with the country that so displeases sectors of the U.S. establishment will not change one bit. Instead, the Obama administration will defend Israel full tilt later this month when the Palestinian Authority goes to the United Nations to ask for recognition of a Palestinian state.
Why is this? It’s simple: President Obama needs to be re-elected in 2012, and needs pro-Israel money and support. And while Gates is part of the military establishment, the larger military industry that profits from the Israeli occupation will certainly not be pushing back against Obama’s full-throated support for Israel. The only way to describe a political system like this is warped.