What are we to conclude from this lengthy analysis from the Wall Street Journal about the fight over Israeli munition purchases from the US and cooperation on policy? On the surface, Adam Entous’ report focuses on the supposed outrage over Israel bypassing the White House to buy much-needed replacements for mortar and tank shells, but it also shows that the relationship between the two governments — at least in regard to the executive branch in the US — has hit its lowest ebb in memory. And it might also be the result of a hostile White House trying to lash out at the Israelis for rebuking them over John Kerry’s cease-fire maneuvering, too.
First, the White House expressed alarm and outrage over Israel’s resupply of munitions that happened without their approval:
White House and State Department officials who were leading U.S. efforts to rein in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.
Since then the Obama administration has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel. But Israeli and U.S. officials say that the adroit bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —and that both sides know it. …
Unknown to many policy makers, Israel was moving on separate tracks to replenish supplies of lethal munitions being used in Gaza and to expedite approval of the Iron Dome funds on Capitol Hill.
On July 20, Israel’s defense ministry asked the U.S. military for a range of munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds, which were already kept stored at a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel.
The request was approved through military channels three days later but not made public. Under the terms of the deal, the Israelis used U.S. financing to pay for $3 million in tank rounds. No presidential approval or signoff by the secretary of state was required or sought, according to officials.
A U.S. defense official said the standard review process was properly followed.
If the standard review process was followed, then why was the White House “caught off guard”? Isn’t it incumbent on the Obama administration to know how the sale and transfer process works? Israel had conducted a ground war — much to the chagrin of Obama and his “policymakers” — for a few weeks. Why wouldn’t anyone have expected Israel to replenish its supplies? Surely there are a few people who may have at least watched Patton if not studied Clausewitz in this administration. Resupply is a basic function for any army at war.
Surprise in this case springs from willful ignorance, as Jeff Dunetz notes. On Morning Joe today, Jim Miklaszewski told Joe Scarborough that the stockpiles in Israel are routinely tapped for resupply, and that the Pentagon knew all about it at the time — even discussing it openly with the press when the transfer occurred. Miklaszewski scoffed at the notion that the White House would have been caught off-guard about it unless they wanted some plausible deniability:
Miklaszewski: When this issue arose people at the Pentagon were discussing it openly because at the time it was considered a pro forma exchange. These weapons, primarily munitions actually are forward located in a stockpile in Israel that are under the control of the U.S. government so that in an emergency, if the Israeli government needs munitions in a hurry, it’s there.
Scarborough: but, Jim, doesn’t the Commander in Chief need to define what an emergency is and what an emergency is not doing? I mean, I’m surprised that somebody at the Pentagon, in a situation this political, you and I both know that the more stars are on a general’s shoulders, the more political they are, the more politically astute most of them are. I’m stunned they wouldn’t pick up the phone saying, hey, we got this request from Israel.
Miklaszewski: I don’t know that it happened that way but officials here [the Pentagon] at the time, described it as a prearranged pro forma exchange between the U.S. and Israel in terms of providing them ammunition. And I can tell you when we asked questions about it here at the time, there was nobody that was attempting to side step the issue, doing the tap dance. They said, oh, yeah, we did it, blah, blah, and here it is. So I can’t tell you if, in fact, there was anybody here at the Pentagon that was trying to undercut the State Department or the White House. And quite frankly, with the iron hand in which the White House rules this building, they don’t sneeze here without waiting for the White House to say gezuntheit. That is not far from the truth. For a minute I can’t believe personally that people here at the Pentagon were trying to purposely hide this transfer of munitions or undercut the White House.
So this leak from the White House about the Israelis sneaking around them is simply nonsense. Time’s Joe Klein wonders aloud why the Obama administration wants to make a stink about this now. “What it really calls into question,” Klein says, “is why the White House is so ticked off about this now.”
Let’s go back to the WSJ for an answer to that question:
Now, as Egyptian officials shuttle between representatives of Israel and Hamas seeking a long-term deal to end the fighting, U.S. officials are bystanders instead of in their historic role as mediators. The White House finds itself largely on the outside looking in.
U.S. officials said Mr. Obama had a particularly combative phone call on Wednesday with Mr. Netanyahu, who they say has pushed the administration aside but wants it to provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for signing onto a long-term deal.
The answer is simple, and easy to deconstruct by reverse-engineering this petulant leak to Entous. Israel (and probably Egypt too) has marginalized John Kerry after the Secretary of State attempted to legitimize Hamas by attempting to negotiate through Qatar and Turkey. That leaves Barack Obama out in the cold, but still making demands on Israel to be flexible in the final truce settlement. Netanyahu wants Obama to make concessions in exchange for that flexibility. That has angered Obama, who finds himself all but impotent in the matter — which is why we have this big leak about the deteriorating relations between Washington and Jerusalem.
The issue of munition resupply is simply a contrivance at this point. The White House wants to erode Israel’s influence on Congress to break out of its no-win position of the moment, but expressing outrage over their own incompetence at keeping up with routine transfers in a system designed to provide them won’t make Obama and his team look any more sympathetic. It just makes them look more incompetent, and gives Congress more reason to bypass the White House themselves as much as they can to keep the partnership with Israel going until Obama leaves office.