Israel won't stop spying on US, which won't stop it

Some interesting reporting on Israel's extensive spying on the US in two pieces by Newsweek's Jeff Stein this week - Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the U.S. and Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up. From the first piece:

“I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” the former aide said. “But when you step back and hear…that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking. I mean, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that after all the hand-wringing over [Jonathan] Pollard, it’s still going on.”

And this anecdote from the second, follow-up report:

When White House national security advisor Susan Rice’s security detail cleared her Jerusalem hotel suite for bugs and intruders Tuesday night, they might’ve had in mind a surprise visitor to Vice President Al Gore’s room 16 years ago this week: a spy in an air duct.

According to a senior former U.S. intelligence operative, a Secret Service agent who was enjoying a moment of solitude in Gore’s bathroom before the Veep arrived heard a metallic scraping sound. “The Secret Service had secured [Gore’s] room in advance and they all left except for one agent, who decided to take a long, slow time on the pot,” the operative recalled for Newsweek. “So the room was all quiet, he was just meditating on his toes, and he hears a noise in the vent. And he sees the vent clips being moved from the inside. And then he sees a guy starting to exit the vent into the room.”

Did the agent scramble for his gun? No, the former operative said with a chuckle. “He kind of coughed and the guy went back into the vents.”

To some, the incident stands as an apt metaphor for the behind-closed-doors relations between Israel and America, “frenemies” even in the best of times. The brazen air-duct caper “crossed the line” of acceptable behavior between friendly intelligence services – but because it was done by Israel, it was quickly hushed up by U.S. officials.

And the reason it goes on unchecked, of course, is that American lawmakers are protecting Israel:

Always lurking, former intelligence officials say, was the powerful “Israeli lobby,” the network of Israel’s friends in Congress, industry and successive administrations, Republican and Democratic, ready to protest any perceived slight on the part of U.S. security officials. A former counterintelligence specialist told Newsweek he risked Israel’s wrath merely by providing routine security briefings to American officials, businessmen and scientists heading to Israel for meetings and conferences.

“We had to be very careful how we warned American officials,” he said. “We regularly got calls from members of Congress outraged by security warnings about going to Israel. And they had our budget. When ... the director of the CIA gets a call from an outraged congressman–’What are these security briefings you're giving? What are these high-level threat warnings about travel to Tel Aviv you're giving? This is outrageous’ – he has to pay close attention. There was always this political delicacy that you had to be aware of.”

Weddady's Free Arabs, American Islamic Congress and the pro-Israel funders who helped them rise

Max Blumenthal has this investigative piece on the American Islamic Congress in Electronic Intifada. I was shocked to read about the funding behind AIC that Max uncovers, I had simply no idea, having thought AIC was funded by Muslim Americans or, perhaps, Gulf countries. It turns out the most fanatic wing of the Israel lobby has a big role in it:

According to Internal Revenue Service 990 information filings, the AIC is funded largely by a pool of right-wing donors responsible for bankrolling key players in America’s Islamophobia industry, from Charles Jacobs to Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism and Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum. These same donors have pumped millions into major pro-Israel organizations, including groups involved in settlement activity and the Friends of the IDF, which provides assistance to the Israeli army.
Among the AIC’s most reliable supporters is the Donors Capital Fund, which has provided at least $85,000 in funding since 2008. Donors Capital was among the seven foundations identified in the Center for American Progress’s 2011 report Fear Inc. as “the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America.” Another foundation singled out in the report, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, has donated $325,000 to the AIC between 2005 and 2011.

There's a lot more there.

Knowing both Max and Nasser Weddady, I am a bit uneasy with his attack on Nasser, who after all is not a top dog at AIC. And I think the swipe at Stanford's Program on Arab Reform is a little weak, especially compared to what he reveals about AIC. Much of the last part of the piece focuses on the Free Arabs website, which Nasser co-edits. As far as I know it is more of a personal project for Nasser that secured funding from Stanford and elsewhere by co-editor Ahmed Benchemsi. So the AIC-Free Arabs connection, apart of Weddady, remains unclear. I was critical like many others of Free Arabs's "Horrible 4" feature and the quite scandalous article cited in Max's article about Mizrahi Israelis being the freest Arabs. But there is also good content elsewhere there.

There is a real problem in the funding of secular liberal Arab publishing. Often sources are from neo-con, pro-Israel sources that tend to minimize criticism of Israel (in my view is the only logical position to take on Israel as a liberal is critical, otherwise one is buying into the exceptionalism of "liberal Zionism" and thus into the racial/religious supremacism inherent in Zionism, which is hardly liberal.) In Arabic, they are often from conservative Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, whose princes finance such "liberal" sites as Elaph. This represents almost none of the mainstream, center-left to center-right, liberal/social-democratic thinking in the Arab world. To have institutions like AIC created to supposedly represent "mainstream Muslims" and have them be largely financed by extremists is deeply disturbing.

Update: Free Arabs' Ahmed Benchemsi has a reply to Max Blumenthal.

This is how Congress discusses Palestine

Link here. So first, frame Palestinian reconciliation as a BAD THING even if it seems peace is pretty unlikely if the Palestinians are divided. Second, only invite Jewish experts from pro-Israel think tanks and advocacy groups. Third, whatever you do, don't invite Palestinians. Got it? Good.

Chuck Hagel in The Onion

Israel Vows To Use Veto Power If Chuck Hagel Confirmed As U.S. Secretary Of Defense | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

JERUSALEM—Top-ranking government officials in Jerusalem confirmed Tuesday that Israel would exercise its longstanding, constitutionally granted veto power over American policy if U.S. lawmakers confirmed retired congressman Chuck Hagel as the United States’ next Secretary of Defense. “In light of Mr. Hagel’s worrying remarks on Israeli-Palestinian relations and questionable classification of Israeli interests as ‘the Jewish lobby,’ we consider him a highly inappropriate choice for Defense Secretary who stands far out of line with our national priorities, and therefore we are prepared to swiftly and resolutely use our official veto power over this U.S. action,” said Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev of the legal maneuver that the small Middle Eastern nation has employed to block U.S. Cabinet nominees, U.S. legislation, U.S. international relations, and U.S. domestic policy over 1,400 times in its 64-year history. “Because congress does not possess the necessary nine-tenths majority to override an Israeli veto, they’ll have no choice but to head back to the drawing board and provide a Defense Secretary whom we find more suitable.” Sources confirmed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sent the White House a list of three individuals the Israeli leader considered appropriate to head the American military from which U.S. President Barack Obama could choose

It's funny because it feels true.

I haven't commented on the Hagel nomination because there's already so much out there. A sample:

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

U.S. fears Israel-Hamas conflict escalates to ground invasion

U.S. fears Israel-Hamas conflict escalates to ground invasion 

From CNN :

The major concern of the United States in the current Israeli-Hamas conflict is a potential Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, U.S. officials said Friday.

That would be a disastrous escalation that could trigger a larger conflict, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

"Escalation is what we are concerned about. We don't want it to escalate to the point where Israel feels it has to take additional action, specifically ground force action," the official said.

Perhaps US leadership should stop talking like Israel has carte blanche then.

The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel

The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel

Great new review piece by Joel Beinin on Beinart, Ben-Ami and Wistrich (authors of recent books on the relationship between American Jews and Israel) — and a killer opening:

When Menachem Begin first visited the United States in December 1948, a host of Jewish notables including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Irma Lindheim (former president of Hadassah), Seymour Melman (former president of the Student Zionist Federation) and the biblical scholar Harry Orlinsky wrote to the New York Times to issue a warning about the Herut (Freedom) Party that Begin led. Herut, they wrote, was “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.” 

This opinion was not on the fringe. When the Irgun set off a bomb in a Haifa market killing dozens of Arabs in 1938, the future prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, could not believe that Jews would commit such a heinous act. He believed Nazi agents were responsible.

That was then. Now, both American Jews and Israel are far more secure and powerful than they were in 1948. But influential American Jewish community leaders, in alliance with prominent neo-conservatives (William Kristol, Rachel Abrams and the Emergency Committee for Israel), evangelical Protestants (Gary Bauer, John Hagee and Christians United for Israel), academics in Jewish studies (Edward Alexander, Alvin Rosenfeld, Ruth Wisse) and their Israeli partners, believe that global anti-Semitism is rampant and that Israel is in existential danger. And it is unlikely that prominent American Zionists would so sharply and publicly condemn the leader of Israel’s Likud party -- the organizational and spiritual heir of Herut and the Irgun -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Alexander Cockburn and the Lobby

Interesting tidbit in this obit of Alexander Cockburn by Charles Glass — Crusading reporter and polemicist who was unafraid to espouse unpopular causes - The Independent:

"Ridgeway wrote: 'Rupert Murdoch, when he owned the Voice, was said to gag on some of Alex's pointed epithets, but he never did anything about it. He actually had us both to lunch and offered us a column.' Murdoch's tolerance did not extend to defending Cockburn when the Boston Phoenix disclosed that he had received a grant of $10,000 from the Institute of Arab Studies to research a book on Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Although other journalists had accepted grants from the American Enterprise Institute and similar organisations without attracting protests, He was forced to leave the Voice amid complaints from Zionists. The editors of the Wall Street Journal, unlike those at the ostensibly liberal Voice, went on publishing the column he had been writing since 1980 (until 1990) and defended him in an editorial headlined 'Alexflap.'"

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

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Romney's stupid pandering to the lobby

Romney outrages Palestinians by saying Jewish culture helps make Israel more successful  - NY Daily News:

"JERUSALEM - Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the nearby Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who called his comments racist and out of touch.

``As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,'' the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted around a U-shaped table at the luxurious King David Hotel.

The reaction of Palestinian leaders to Romney's comments was swift and pointed.

``What is this man doing here?'' said Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official. ``Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn't this racism?''"

That's like wondering why blacks are poorer than whites in 1870 America. Or 1990 South Africa.

Why is an American presidential candidate making such obviously stupid comments? Because he's pandering to the Israel lobby, that's why. And that's why his opponent will not call him out on his offensive stupidity, either.

Update: Steve Walt expands on this.

Why I won't bother reading Peter Beinart

For several months now there's been a huge hullabaloo about Peter Beinart, who has gone from establishment Jewish-American golden boy to near-pariah figure for his book, The Crisis of Zionism, which essentially appears to be of the anguished "Israel-is-losing-its-soul" variety but is nonetheless important because it's an insider's rebellion and has ruffled feathers. I think I'll pass reading it, however, not just because much this Jewish-American intramural debate is old news and not particularly interesting anymore (Israelis themselves have had a much more vigorous debate for years, after all.)

It's that the book appears to carry some bizarre arguments. From historian Shaul Magid's review in Religion Dispatches:

While Beinart gestures to his leftist critics that he is aware of the argument that one cannot separate the settlements from the state, he never responds to them. Probably because he can’t. His suggestion that we should boycott the settlements and give that money (and more!) to the state belies the reality that the state funds the settlements, which is why no one I am familiar with ever suggested boycotting the Afrikaner farmers while giving more aid to the South African government.

If Beinart tries to establish some kind of separation between the settlements and the state of Israel, which finances them, provides infrastructure, guards them, builds roads to them, etc. — how is anyone supposed to take him seriously?

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Economist on Netanyahu

Israel, Iran and America: Auschwitz complex | The Economist

The American-Israeli relationship now resembles the sort of crazy co-dependency one sometimes finds in doomed marriages, where the more stubborn and unstable partner drags the other into increasingly delusional and dangerous projects whose disastrous results seem only to legitimate their paranoid outlook. If Mr Netanyahu manages to convince America to back an attack on Iran, it is to be hoped that the catastrophic consequences will not be used to justify the attack that led to them.

Mr Netanyahu thinks the Zionist mission was to give the Jewish people control over their destiny. No people has control over its destiny when it is at war with its neighbours. But in any case, that is only one way of thinking of the Zionist mission. Another mission frequently cited by early Zionists was to help Jews grow out of the "Ghetto mentality". Mr Netanyahu's gift to Mr Obama shows he's still in it.

One of the advantages of my injury is that it did not allow me much time on a computer to follow the AIPAC festival of allegiance (strangely reminiscent of allegiance ceremonies in Arab monarchies) in Washington. But this piece nails Netanyahu's responsibility for so much, it's worth reading in full.

The WINEP crusade to discredit the Egyptian revolution

A few days ago I noted a pretty awful piece by WINEP's Robert Satloff and Eric Trager in WSJ. But there is more:

  • WINEP fellow Eric Trager has had more negative pieces on the Egyptian uprising, focusing on how nasty Islamists are, than anyone. His latest, published on the revolution's anniversary, is titled Happy Birthday To Egypt’s Doomed Revolution. I share Trager's concerns over the Islamist ascendency but the entire premise of many his pieces is wrong: he argues that somehow the West was fooled into thinking this was a liberal secular revolution. It was not, and it was obvious from the start. It was a revolution against a dictator and his autocratic system, but joined by all sorts of people — from undemocratic radical leftists and Islamists to mainstream Islamists, liberals, centrists of all shades. And it's amusing he decries that some activists would not meet with Hillary Clinton. Nothing new here, it has been the case for a long time and a completely understandable decision considering US policies in the region and backing Mubarak (and perhaps SCAF). He also is fighting a home game, the one WINEP cares most about, about US foreign policy and the engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood. Why anyone would object with US officials meeting with members of the largest party in Egypt is beyond me, and some sort of policy was necessary to break the ice considering past kowtowing to Mubarak regime restrictions on meeting the Brothers. (Update: The Lounsbury chimes in.)
  • David Pollock, also a WINEP fellow, has a rather trite piece attacking the Muslim Brothers for what they say in English vs. what they in Arabic. He doesn't even provide the best examples, which come from the governorate websites of the Brothers. This kind of argumentation is futile, because the point is no longer what the Brothers say in one language or the other, but what they do. This is precisely why the US is talking to them – to have an impact over what they do. And the real big problem with this piece in meta: its underlying assumption is that the US is "trusting" the MB's "private assurances" and statements. What, in this chaotic situation? No one runs foreign policy like that, as if Obama is saying, but that guy Beltagui of the Brothers assured me this or that. Paul Pillar has more on this piece at National Interest.
  • But the real WINEP Egypt bash-feast took place at one of the organization's "policy forums" which Trager, Egyptian activist Samuel Tadros and old WINEP hand David Schenker. I am quite alarmed by Tadros' phrasing of the Egyptian political scene as what non-Islamists can do in conjunction with the US (of course Tadros was previously a recipient of MEPI funding) – as if the US has historically been a great friend of Egyptian democrats – and I remember his rather nasty attack on Ayman Nour as anti-Semitic (as if anti-Semitism is really Egypt's biggest problem.)

It's not that there aren't real foreign policy conundrums towards Egypt – there are plenty. But WINEP's entire approach, focused mostly on bashing the Obama administration's cautious engagement of Islamists who are sen by most Egyptians (despite the elections' many flaws) as democratically elected and constant return to the question of Israel is neither helpful nor analytically interesting. What it amounts to, in other words, is another Israel lobby initiative to ensure that one of the worst aspect of US foreign policy in the region – seeing everything through an Israeli prism – continues. In Egypt, as I've argued in the past, the best way to calm regional tensions may be precisely to decouple US-Egypt relations from the Camp David framework. It's not the propaganda of an outfit dedicated to furthering Israel's interests in the US that's going to provide much insight into how Egypt can make it through the tremendously difficult road ahead, or credibly give advice  about promoting democracy when it spent so many years defending Mubarak when he backed Israeli interests (such as the blockade of Gaza) and bashing him after 2004 when it became politically fashionable.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Dennis Ross's hotline to Obama

Haaretz's Barak David asks, Why did the White House install a secure phone in Dennis Ross’ office in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy?

Apparently, a short while after Ross left his position in the Obama administration, the White House made an unusual request to install a secure phone line in Ross' office at the Washington Institute. The secure line is known in Israel as a "red phone", which could be used to discuss confidential information without the risk of wiretapping.

In America, the term “red telephone” brings back memories of the Cold War and apocalyptic films such as of Dr. Strangelove. Guarded telephones in the U.S. Department of State as well as those in the White House are mostly white or gray. One of them sits in Dennis Ross’ office in his research institute, through which Ross receives updates regarding classified government information connected to his profession. There aren’t many independent researchers that receive such privileges.

I'm glad to provide an answer: because Dennis Ross is the Obama administration's chief interlocutor with the Israel lobby and Israel officials. Name me another country that has such power in the United States, or another (kind-of-former) official that has such influence despite having publicly adopted positions that are the opposite of those of the administration that he advises (on Iran, on settlements, on Jerusalem). That's because Ross is not the Obama administration's advisor on Middle East policy – he's one of the main conduits for the Israel lobby's to the administration.

The Arab Spring, US foreign policy, the Status-Quo Lobby and the Dream Palace of the Zionists

I'd like to touch upon America and Egypt, because I've seen a lot of hand-wringing in American newspapers about the future of that relationship and a sense of misplaced buyers' remorse about the Egyptian revolution – misplaced because the US had little to do with the revolution, and because it is wrong-headed thinking about an unstoppable, irreversible event.

Generally speaking, the American foreign policy establishment is stuck on Egypt. It is having a hard time imagining a different Middle East. Its path of least resistance is banking on their financial and political relationship with the generals now in charge and maintaining the ability to project power in the region that it has had since 1945 to some extent and since 1990 in particular. If it continues on this path, which is unfortunately likely, because of the dearth of imagination in a foreign policy elite that has grown lazy in its imperial thinking, and because of the dire state of American politics, it will fail. 

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Israel and the American right

Take note of this Politico story by Ben Smith about the launch of the Center for American Freedom, a right-wing answer to the pro-Obama Center for American Progress that is setting up as a right-wing echo chamber ahead of the presidential elections. All of which is fair enough, but there's a passage revealing of the ties between the Israel lobby and the increasingly extreme (one might say proto-fascistic — note its militarism and eagerness for war with Iran) aspects of the contemporary American right:

A test run for CAF, Goldfarb said, was the Emergency Committee for Israel, which he also advised, and which waged a relentless guerrilla media campaign against the efforts of J Street – a national membership organization with a sizable Washington staff – to create a liberal counterweight in American Middle East policy.

“That showed that you can have a less well-funded organization but you can present a pretty devastating asymmetric counterweight to something much larger and more established on the other side if you go about it in an effective way,” Goldfarb said.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

More on Dennis Ross

The praise keeps coming in!

Rashid Khalidi, in a piece really worth reading entirely:

Dennis Ross has finally left the building. Since the Carter administration, Ross has played a crucial role in crafting Middle East policies that have prolonged and exacerbated the more than six-decade conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. His efforts contributed significantly to the growth in the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories from well under 200,000 in the 1980s to nearly 600,000 today. It is in no small measure due to him that the two-state solution is all but dead.

Ross’s tenure during the administrations of five presidents over parts of five decades was marked by a litany of failures. And yet he went from success to bureaucratic success in Washington. His ability to flourish despite these failures reflects the degree to which obsequious support for Israel has become the norm in American politics, even when it contradicts U.S. national interests.

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L'Affaire Jennifer Rubin

Why the Washington Post won't fire Jennifer Rubin - Salon.com:

What’s particularly remarkable is that Pexton is admitting (albeit wanting it kept secret) what any honest observer knows to be true: that there is a very high likelihood — I’d say absolute certainty — that Rubin would have been fired had she promoted a post like this about Jews and Israelis rather than Arabs and Palestinians.

But this is the insidious, pervasive bias that has long been obvious in a profession that relentlessly touts its own “objectivity.” Even the mildest criticism of Israelis and anything even hinting at criticisms of Jews is strictly prohibited — a prohibition enforced by summary, immediate dismissal and enduring stigma. As Nicholas Kristof wrote during a visit to Jerusalem last year: Israel “tolerates a far greater range of opinions [about Israel] than America.

The takeaway: endorse racism against Arabs all you want, but not the other way around.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Reasons for Dennis Ross' departure

I have no idea why Dennis Ross, to the surprise of many, has announced he will leave his White House position next month, as the NYT reported. Some questions this raises:

  • Why did Ross make the announcement at a gathering of Jewish leaders? Is it linked to the recent comments by Obama and Sarkozy about Netanyahu? Ross was often said to be, among other things, a key liaison to the lobby writ large — in a sense, their man inside the White House of a president that Zionists never fully trusted. 
  • As a corollary: does this mean that major Jewish organizations are likely to dump Obama for re-election? This is what Elliott Abrams suggests (perhaps wishful thinking on his part, and not representative in any case of the wider average Jewish-American electorate which remains pretty Democratic and mostly concerned about other issues than Israel — even if the major Jewish organizations have significant fundraising clout).
  • Is it linked to Obama's Iran policy, including his reluctance to beat the war drums? Ross was supposed to be the key pointman on Iran — was he pushed out of that role or frustrated because he could not get his way?
  • Is it simply that with the peace process going nowhere (Ross having made sure of that), he is no longer needed or no longer feels useful?
  • Is it that, ahead of the presidential election, the Obama administration will not engage in any major new initiatives, and thus Ross feels like he would be twiddling his thumbs waiting for an uncertain second term?
  • Or maybe it's just the promise to his wife — but if so, how come we didn't know earlier than he would leave in December 2011?

Whatever the reason, good riddance.

That "unbreakable bond with Israel"

Barack and Bibi, at one the usual ritual humiliation meetings

… that America — against all common sense, national interest, and morality — is stuck with:

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, described the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, as a "liar" in a private exchange with Barack Obama at last week's G20 summit in Cannes that was inadvertently broadcast to journalists.

"I cannot stand him. He's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama. The US president responded by saying: "You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day."