Can’t be worse than 50/50 odds that he eventually starts threatening to back a challenger for Netanyahu’s Knesset seat.
This Axios report reminds me of the phone call Trump had with Netanyahu in full view of reporters on October 23 last year, 10 days before the election. That was the day the U.S. announced that Israel and Sudan had agreed on a process to normalize diplomatic relations as part of the Abraham Accords. Trump being Trump, he decided to put Netanyahu on the spot by pressuring him for a quasi-endorsement.
If he could use his official power as president to lean on Ukraine for election help, why wouldn’t he do the same to Israel?
“Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi, Sleepy Joe,” the president asked from his desk in the Oval Office. He inched forward to lean over the phone receiver. “Do you think he would have made this deal? Somehow I don’t think so.”
A pause ensued. Trump looked down at his clasped hands.
“Well, Mr. President,” Netanyahu began as Trump raised his gaze, “one thing I can tell you is that we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.”
There’s nothing else Netanyahu could have said, realistically, and any politician except Trump would have known it. Israel can’t risk alienating either party in the U.S., particularly the party whose base already includes many Palestinian sympathizers. It needs America as an ally full-time, not an ally every four or eight years depending upon which side holds the White House. Besides, the polls in late October of last year showed Biden sailing to an easy win on Election Day. It would have been moronic for Netanyahu to take a swipe at “Sleepy Joe” at a moment when he was expecting to be dealing with Sleepy Joe on Iran and the Palestinians in a matter of months. Even if he were willing, some of his own political allies in Israel would have been irate that he had chosen to offend half the U.S. population gratuitously.
Either Trump didn’t grasp Netanyahu’s predicament or he did but didn’t care, believing that personal loyalty to him should matter more than loyalty to Israel even to the prime minister of Israel.
Anyway, fast-forward two weeks. The election’s over and Biden has won, although the “stop the steal” campaign is just ramping up. That Saturday, U.S. news networks officially called the election for Biden and well wishes began trickling in from world leaders. Netanyahu wasn’t the first to congratulate him (contra what Trump says in the excerpt below) but he did congratulate him the next day in a video. According to Barak Ravid, who interviewed Trump later and wrote about it today for Axios, Trump has never forgiven him for it. Add this to the endless list of grievances he has against anyone who’s unwilling to pretend that he won the election to soothe his ego:
“The first person that congratulated [Biden] was Bibi Netanyahu, the man that I did more for than any other person I dealt with. … Bibi could have stayed quiet. He has made a terrible mistake.”…
“I liked Bibi. I still like Bibi. But I also like loyalty. The first person to congratulate Biden was Bibi. And not only did he congratulate him, he did it on tape,” Trump told me, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname…
Trump claimed he was shocked when his wife Melania shared Netanyahu’s video with him: “He was very early — like, earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. F**k him.”
The former president was fixated on the fact that while the likes of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Russia’s Vladimir Putin held off — “they felt the election was rigged,” Trump claimed — Netanyahu acknowledged Biden’s win.
“I still like Bibi. But I also like loyalty” is one of the most low-key Corleone-ish things he’s ever said, and the competition in that category is stiff. Thumbs up to him too for taking Putin’s supposed skepticism about the election at face value, as if Putin has no strategic interest in encouraging distrust and discord among Americans. What a maroon.
Netanyahu was asked for comment today and responded diplomatically, politely reminding Trump that diplomacy isn’t about “loyalty,” it’s about national self-interest. One would think an “America First” nationalist would understand that.
BREAKING: Netanyahu responds: “I highly appreciate President Trump’s big contribution to Israel and its security. I also appreciate the importance of the strong alliance between Israel and the U.S. and therefore it was important for me to congratulate the incoming President”. https://t.co/03RmhXxsPv
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) December 10, 2021
Ironically, Netanyahu wasn’t above grumbling about “election fraud” after his own reelection bid went sideways last summer, although his party was keen to assure people that he wasn’t questioning the integrity of the vote in Israel the way Trump did in the U.S.
I wonder what degree of horror Netanyahu feels at the prospect of potentially reclaiming the premiership and then having to deal with Trump as president again. Normally a hawkish Israeli leader would prefer to have a Republican as a partner, but probably not when that Republican is telling reporters “f*** him” when asked for comment. The good news for Bibi is that Trump is quick to forgive his enemies when they demonstrate newfound “loyalty.” The bad news is that the loyalty he’ll demand next time will be some sort of acknowledgment that the 2020 U.S. election might have been rigged. “[T]here’s now a non-zero chance that Netanyahu becomes a public 2020 election truther in order to try and get back in Trump’s good graces, which would be really bad,” says Yair Rosenberg. Trump’s going to pressure Netanyahu to take partisan sides again if they both find themselves back in power. Which is good for Trump and terrible for Israel and its supporters.
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