Did ‘Foreign Policy’ plant false Israeli embassy story — leading to diplomat’s reassignment to Copenhagen?

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Here’s some high level intrigue, with the stakes being no less than Our Next War.

You might have seen the bombshell piece by Foreign Policy editor David Rothkopf, “A Truly Credible Military Threat To Iran,” saying that Obama and the Israelis are at last getting on the same page for a surgical strike on Iran that would only last a couple of hours and bring regional benefits to everyone.

The article was a bombshell because it seemed the first real evidence of joint military planning. But it has apparently mislanded, and led to a clash inside the Israeli embassy between Michael Oren and his former deputy, Baruch Bina, and in turn led Israeli P.M. Netanyahu to dismiss Bina.

Here’s the story as I understand it.

Rothkopf’s piece electrified D.C. because it had the kind of detailed, nuanced language that usually accompanies a well-sourced and authoritative account. And indeed, Rothkopf is a Washington insider. He is the former roommate of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

The money graf:

Indeed, according to a source close to the discussions, the action that participants currently see as most likely is a joint U.S.-Israeli surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities. The strike might take only “a couple of hours” in the best case and only would involve a “day or two” overall, the source said, and would be conducted by air, using primarily bombers and drone support. Advocates for this approach argue that not only is it likely to be more politically palatable in the United States but, were it to be successful — meaning knocking out enrichment facilities, setting the Iranian nuclear program back many years, and doing so without civilian casualties — it would have regionwide benefits. 

Of course we Americans would be doing the heavy lifting:

While this approach would limit the negative costs associated with more protracted interventions, it could not be conducted by the Israelis acting alone.

And here’s the rosy neocon vision. A joint strike, Rothkopf wrote, would have a

“transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.”

Rothkopf’s article first made headlines in Israel as a piece of investigative journalism, but doubts ensued. “A Truly Credible Threat” was soon being retailed as an opinion piece. It slid off the front page of the Times of Israel; and even Foreign Policy seemed eager to let the scoop disappear. Comments on the piece were turned off.

What happened? I’ve been told that military officers in the US and Israel privately denied the report: the U.S. military not only opposes Israeli military action but sees the possibility of a joint strike as remote at best.

This led to speculation that Rothkopf’s piece had been planted by the Israeli embassy.

That’s when the other shoe dropped. I’m told that the piece sparked a major confrontation between Oren and Baruch Bina, Israel’s number two man in Washington, with Bina arguing that it was inappropriate of the ambassador to feed such a line to Rothkopf, because it could only damage U.S.-Israeli relations.

A career-limiting-move, indeed. Oren is said to have called Netanyahu to say that he could no longer work with Bina. And Netanyahu took his ambassador’s side. Yesterday Bina was run out of town. Haaretz:

Deputy ambassador to the United States Baruch Bina was on Wednesday appointed Israel’s man in Denmark, in a move that is expected to end the strained relations in Washington between the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, and Bina.

So: He’s being sent to Copenhagen. That’s Siberia. It’s what happens to diplomats who cross Netanyahu.

And here’s the weird kicker: one of the reasons Netanyahu got rid of Bina is not because he’s not trusted in Washington but because he is: the White House likes working with Bina more than Oren. The same holds true for Ehud Barak. The White House likes working with the former Labor leader more than Netanyahu.

Where this leaves David Rothkopf is anyone’s guess. He’s the editor of Foreign Policy. But the “plant” tale is now being murmured about all over town; and I can’t imagine that the bosses at that shop like being used for neoconservative propaganda purposes. Been there, done that.

Update: A friend told me something about Baruch Bina that fills this story out a little. During the Republican convention in Tampa in August, the American Jewish Committee sponsored a panel on the Middle East at the St. Petersburg Art Museum. Bina was on the panel and cited the leading Palestinian writer George Antonius and compared the Arab Spring to a “third Arab awakening.” My friend says Bina was thoughtful in a way that the other two panelists, Republican congressman Chris Smith and former congressman Mark Green, were not.

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“And indeed, Rothkopf is a Washington insider. He is the former roommate of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.” Well, there are other Washington insiders than former Oren roommates and, for all I know, there are other former Oren roommates who are not Washington insiders. But, as I read this story, it was Oren than planted the story, Bina who blew the whistle and was punished, Washington who lost a useful diplomat to talk to (Bina), and… Read more »

Obama should communicate through all his ties to non-Likudniks in Israel that he can no longer work with Netanyahu. Oust him in the elections, or US aid to Israel will suffer. I have to confess that the Republican focus on the Libya story smells of neoCon influence, as well. Romney’s knee-jerk response lambasting Obama over Libya reminds of John McCain’s idiotic “We’re all Georgians now,” remark, and only the whiff of sulfur left by neoCon… Read more »


Remember, Rothkopf also tried to deny that the Israel lobby even exists(a favourite tactic among the lobby’s loyal men).

Walt responds and methodically plucks apart Rothkopf’s somewhat clumsy(and frankly unsophisticated) attempt to hide the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Well, this is just a despairing screech on the part of the ‘bomb bomb bomb Iran’ brigade. No genocidal war for Christmas. Maybe you’ll get the pony next year. Sorry.

Otherwise, if this guy really was reasonable and all that, good thing he got sent to Siberia. Reasonable Zionists are the most dangerous kind. Give us the lunatics. The more people see what’s really in the sausage, the better.

David Rothkopf is CEO and editor at large of Foreign Policy.

FOREIGN POLICY is published by the FP Group,
a division of The Washington Post Company,1