Editor’s Note: In an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel, Martin Indyk discusses Israel, and the complicated relations it has with the United States and its neighbors. Indyk talks about what needs to come next to keep the tensions between Israel and other state players from spinning out of control. Read an excerpt below and listen to the full interview at npr.org.
Robert Siegel: In addition to the recent pro-Israeli actions that I mentioned, the U.S. is committed to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It’s aligned with Israel on that issue. Were those new housing units or the plans for them, were they seen in Washington as an act of ingratitude?
Martin Indyk: The administration is not say saying that but I’m sure it feels it. And it has been expressed most recently by Rahm Emanuel when he was at an event that we hosted, the Sarbonne Forum; it got a lot of publicity because he made it clear that he thought it was ingratitude. But then, he’s the mayor of Chicago, not the chief of staff of the White House.
But I do think that there is a feeling that it’s not just that this Israeli government takes actions that create a problem for the United States, but that this Israeli government is always coming to Washington for help, particularly in the case of the U.N. vote. And yet, they don’t give the administration anything to work with and they do these kinds of things which make it even more difficult for the United States to defend Israel.
Siegel: Israel is in the thick of an election campaign. Does the government benefit by doing that or does it cost them anything to appear to have frosty relations with U.S. from time to time?
Indyk: Well, I think that the fact that elections are coming up in mid-January is what is determining Netanyahu’s behavior at the moment. Henry Kissinger famously said that Israel doesn’t have a foreign policy, it only has domestic politics. Well, that’s especially the case at this moment and Bibi is playing to his right-wing. He’s got a challenge from his right-wing. There is a right-wing religious party that is taking votes away from him. And the best way he can boost his support is by doing what the right-wing cares about, which is more settlement activity.
[The resignation of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell] is surprising news, which seems to have caught everyone off guard. He doesn’t appear to have shared this news with his ambassadors, who were in Washington last week for a global chiefs of mission conference. His deputy is also slated to retire soon, which raises question of near term leadership on European policy at a time of challenges there.
[Wess] Mitchell was a strong supporter of NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe where he will be sorely missed. His departure comes follows the resignation of senior Pentagon officials – Robert Karem and Tom Goffus – working on NATO along with Secretary Mattis. Without this pro-alliance caucus, NATO is now more vulnerable than at any time since the beginning of the Trump administration.