Intelligence Committee Chair Describes Explosive Confrontation Between Netanyahu and American Ambassador
By Jeffrey Goldberg
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro allegedly argued over the Obama's administration's Iran policy.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says that his much-discussed meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem late last month did, in fact, devolve into an sharp confrontation between Netanyahu and the American ambassador to Israel, the former National Security Council official (and former Obama campaign Jewish liaison), Dan Shapiro.
Rogers told a Michigan radio interviewer earlier this week that he had not previously witnessed such a high-level confrontation, and he described Israeli leaders as being at "wits' end" over what they see as President Obama's unwillingness to provide them with his "red lines" in the effort to stop Iran's nuclear program. He also said that neither the Israelis nor the Iranians believe that Obama would use force to stop the nuclear program. (UPDATE: Rogers said as well he believes the Israelis will "probably" bomb Iran if they don't get clearer red lines from the U.S.)
Rogers description of the meeting directly contradicts repeated Administration assertions that there is "no daylight" on the Iran issue with the Israeli government. Shortly after the meeting took place, Israeli press reports appeared suggesting that Netanyahu and Shapiro had engaged in an argument, but Shapiro soon dismissed those reports, calling them "silly" and saying, "The published account of that meeting did not reflect what actually occurred in the meeting. The conversations were entirely friendly and professional."
Rogers, speaking to WJR radio host Frank Beckmann, painted a very different picture. He said the meeting, originally scheduled to be a discussion of intelligence and technical issues between himself and the prime minister, spun out of control when Netanyahu began lambasting Shapiro over the Administration's Iran policy. When Beckmann asked Rogers to describe the tenor of the meeting, he said: "Very tense. Some very sharp… exchanges and it was very, very clear the Israelis had lost their patience with the (Obama) Administration." He went on, "There was no doubt. You could not walk out of that meeting and think that they had not lost their patience with this Administration."
Rogers said Israeli frustration grows from what they see — and he sees — as a refusal by the Obama Administration to outline an endgame: "(I)t was very clear the overarching policy has been frustrating mainly because I think it's not very clear. What we walked out of that meeting knowing is that the Administration was trying to defend itself." By the end, he said, there was a "sharp exchange between the Administration's representative there, our ambassador there, and Mr. Netanyahu, which was unusual to say the least, but I thought at the end of the day maybe productive."
Beckmann then asked: "Is it inaccurate to say it was a shouting match?" Rogers answered: "I can say that there were elevated concerns on behalf of the Israelis." When asked if he had "ever seen that sort of thing before," Rogers answered: "No not that directly. We've had sharp exchanges with other heads of state and in intelligence services and other things, but nothing at that level that I've seen in all my time where people were clearly that agitated, clearly that worked up about a particular issue where there was a very sharp exchange."
Rogers went on to describe what he understands to be the Israeli frustration, and, apparently, his frustration, with the impact of sanctions: "Here's the problem. ….I support the sanctions. But if you're going to have a hammer you have to have an anvil. You have to have at least a credible threat of a military option. So it's having an effect, yes, it's having an effect on the Iranian economy. It is not impacting their race on enrichment and other things, and that's very very clear." He went on, "I think the Israeli position is, 'Hey, listen, you've got to tell us — I mean, if you want us to wait' — and that's what this Administration's been saying, you've gotta wait, you've gotta wait, you've gotta wai — got that — 'but then you've gotta tell us when is the red line so we can make our own decisions about should we or shouldn't we stop this particular program."
And Rogers had harsh words for the Administration, which he says has made it very clear to the Israelis what they shouldn't do, but hasn't delivered a message to the Iranians with the same clarity: "There's a lot of pieces in play on this. But I think again, their frustration is that the Administration hasn't made it very clea — they've made it very clear to Israel in a public way that they shouldn't do it, but haven't made it very clear to Iran in a public way that there will be tougher action, which could include — and I argue peace through strength, so you just need to let them understand that that's an option so we can deter them from their program. And right now the Israelis don't' believe that the Administration is serious when they say that all options are on the table, and more importantly neither do the Iranians. That's why the program is progressing."
I'll post more of this interview as it is transcribed, in a few minutes, in this space.
PART II: When asked by Beckmann at what he believes the Israelis willl say "enough is enough," Rogers answered: "Certainly when you walk out of that meeting you get the feeling that they are finally at wits' end, and that's what concerned me about the meeting."
He went on, "I will say that as a part of their decision point or data point when they go through the process of should we or shouldn't we, it was clear that our American elections have worked its way into one of those data points. I thought, well, maybe that hedges their response until maybe after the election. But what I got out of that, walking out of that, wa,s yeah they're considering it, but at this point they're very frustrated because they don't' know what happens after the election, and their window for impacting the program they believe is starting to close."
Rogers also said that what he calls Obama's uncertainty has caused problems for the U.S. across the Middle East. "You know, it's a very interesting argument when you're in the room and talking about options.The meeting was designed, it was supposed to be between Netanyahu and myself on some intelligence cooperation matters and other matters, when it came to Iran and Syria and other things, and kind of devolved into this meeting where the ambassador was confronted directly… what was very apparent to me was a lot of frustration with the lack of clarity and the uncertainty about what their position is on the Iranian nuclear program. And that's what I think I saw across the Middle East. The uncertainty about where the United States' position is on those questions has created lots of problems and anxiety that I think doesn't serve the world well and doesn't serve peace well."
Rogers spoke, as well, about the Iranian nuclear timeline: "So the big question is the dash. And the dash is, we know they have an enrichment program, it's highly likely they have a weaponization program. You have to have both of those parts for a nuclear weapon program. And the dash is when does weaponization mean you can put it on a missile and fire it off?
The Israelis are upset because that dash question seems to be shortening and they already believe they have enough enrichment for more than one nuclear bomb. That's why their anxiety is high and the United States position isn't all that clear." Beckmann then asked Rogers how close the Israelis believe that dash period to be. Rogers: "The Israelis believe it's short. I mean, Netanyahu made it very clear he thought it was a matter of weeks. If they decide to do the dash it could be four weeks to eight weeks, which is a month or two months. Our intelligence analysts believe it would be a little longer than that. But the problem is, nobody really knows for sure. But we do know, and I think everyone agrees, including, you know, our European intelligence allies and other things that they are clearly marching down this road."
Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column.