As Israel's Gaza War Widens, So Does Tension With U.S.

White House Wants Conflict Over — Bibi Pushes Ahead

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By Ron Kampeas

Published July 29, 2014.

(JTA) — The dramatic developments in the war between Hamas and Israel have been accompanied by sharp ups and downs in U.S.-Israel relations.

On Monday, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, made nice with the U.S. national security adviser, Susan Rice, before an audience of anxious U.S. Jewish leaders. But right before, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly vowed to continue Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, notwithstanding President Obama’s unequivocal demand for a cease-fire.

And within a day of Israeli and American pledges not to afflict one another with damaging leaks, Israeli television was running the transcript of what it said was a fraught Obama-Netanyahu telephone conversation.

The tumult in U.S.-Israel ties reflects the confusing and open-ended nature of the current war between Israel and Hamas, insiders and experts suggest.

“The [Israeli] government is confused, the [Israeli] public is confused, and I’m not sure the [Obama] administration is giving absolutely clear signals,” said Peter Medding, a political science professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem whose specialty is Israel-U.S. relations. “That’s not a good situation.”

In the first weeks of the war, Netanyahu and Obama seemed to be on the same page, with both leaders angling for cease-fires and putting the blame squarely on Hamas.

But as the war has dragged on, the leaders have been pulled in opposite directions. Obama has been concerned with the rapid growth of civilian casualties while Netanyahu has been concerned with the vast network of Hamas-built tunnels running under the Gaza-Israel border.

“We will not complete the mission, we will not complete the operation, without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children,” Netanyahu said at a news conference Monday, a day after Obama had called for an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.”

Within an hour of Netanyahu’s news conference, the national Jewish groups held a pro-Israel rally at the National Press Club. The star guests were Rice, who is one of Obama’s closest confidantes, and Dermer, the Israeli ambassador.

They seemed to be on the same page.

“Israel will continue to destroy the tunnels we have found, regardless of whether there is a cease-fire or not, and I know the Obama administration understands and supports that,” Dermer said.

“Israel has the same, unequivocal right to self-defense as every other nation,” Rice said. “No nation can accept terrorists tunneling into its territory or rockets crashing down on its people.”

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