As Israel entered the third week of its Gaza blitz,
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regaled a crowd in Ashkelon with an astonishing tale.
He had, said Olmert, whistled up George Bush, interrupted him in the middle
of a speech and told him to instruct Condi Rice not to vote for a U.N. resolution
Condi herself had written. Bush did as told, said Olmert.
The crowd loved it. Here is the background.
After intense negotiations with Britain and France, Secretary of State
Rice had persuaded the Security Council to agree on a resolution calling for
a cease-fire. But Olmert wanted more time to kill Hamas.
So, here, in Olmert's words, is what happened next.
"In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state
wanted to lead the vote on a cease-fire at the Security Council, we did not
want her to vote in favor.
"I said, 'Get me President Bush on the phone.' They said he was in the
middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care. 'I need to
talk to him now.' He got off the podium and spoke to me."
According to Olmert, Bush was clueless.
"He said: 'Listen. I don't know about it. I didn't see it. I'm not familiar
with the phrasing.'
"I told him the United States could not vote in favor. It cannot vote
in favor of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state
and told her not to vote in favor."
The UN diplomatic corps was astonished when the United States abstained
on the 14-0 resolution Rice had crafted and claimed her country supported. Arab
diplomats say Rice promised them she would vote for it.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, with Rice at the United Nations
during the debate on the resolution, said Olmert's remarks were "just 100 percent,
totally, completely untrue."
But the White House cut Rice off at the knees, saying only that there were
"inaccuracies" in the Olmert story. The video does not show Bush interrupting
his speech to take any call.
Yet, the substance rings true and is widely believed, and Olmert is happily
describing the egg on Rice's face:
"He [Bush] gave an order to the secretary of state, and she did not
vote in favor of it – a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organized and maneuvered
for. She was left pretty shamed. ..."
With Bush and Rice leaving office in hours, and Olmert in weeks, the story
may seem to lack significance.
Yet, public gloating by an Israeli prime minister that he can order a U.S.
president off a podium and instruct him to reverse and humiliate his secretary
of state may cause even Ehud's poodle to rise up on its hind legs one day and
bite its master.
Taking such liberties with a superpower that, for Israel's benefit, has
shoveled out $150 billion and subordinated its own interests in the Arab and
Islamic world would seem a hubristic and stupid thing to do.
And there are straws in the wind that, despite congressional resolutions
giving full-throated approval to all that Israel is doing in Gaza, this is becoming
a troubled relationship.
Two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in opposing any truce, assured
the world there "is no humanitarian crisis in the (Gaza) Strip," and the humanitarian
situation there "is completely as it should be."
Not so to Hillary Clinton. In her confirmation hearings, the secretary
of state-designate, reports the New York Times, "struck a sharper tone
toward Israel on violence in the Middle East."
Clinton "seemed to part from the tone set by the Bush administration in
calling attention to what she described as the 'tragic humanitarian costs' borne
by Palestinians, as well as Israelis."
More dramatic was a weekend report by the Times' David Sanger that
the White House had rebuffed Olmert's request for new U.S. bunker-buster bombs
and denied Israel permission to overfly Iraq in any strike on Iran's nuclear
enrichment plant at Natanz.
Sanger described these U.S.-Israeli talks as "tense."
Repeatedly, Israel has warned that Iran is close to a bomb and threatened
to attack unilaterally. Indeed, Israel simulated such an attack in an air exercise
of 100 planes that went as far as Greece.
Bush both blocked and vetoed that attack, says Sanger. But he did assure
Olmert that America is engaged in the sabotage of Iran's nuclear program by
helping provide Tehran with defective parts.
This would seem a stunning breach of security secrets, but no outrage has
been heard from the White House, nor has any charge come that the Times
compromised national security.
With Olmert, Rice and Bush departing, and Obama and Hillary taking charge
committed to talking to Iran, can the old intimacy survive the new friction
and colliding agendas?
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