The White House is in damage control after an anonymous Obama administration official was quoted in the Atlantic calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickenshit,” while a second told the magazine that the Israeli leader was a “coward” when it came to Iran.
“Certainly the comments in the article do not represent the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counter-productive,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.
According to congressional sources, White House officials are reaching out to key lawmakers who deal with the U.S-Israel relationship to deny that the bruising quote came from the White House — leaving the explicit suggestion that a State Department official was responsible for the remark. White House officials told lawmakers that press secretary Josh Earnest would denounce the quote at today’s daily briefing.
“They’re reaching out to us and letting us know that they’re outraged,” a House aide tells Foreign Policy. Another congressional aide said officials attempted to “make clear that the quote didn’t come from the White House and that White House officials weren’t happy about it.”
Denying involvement, a State Department official said, “That quote did not come from any senior State Department official, period.”
The flap began after the Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg quoted an anonymous U.S. official saying Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” prime minister, whose only concern was his political survival.
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.” The other official told Goldberg that the Obama administration doesn’t take Netanyahu’s threat of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities seriously.