The Putin-Netanyahu Bromance

“I know what America is. America is a thing that can be easily moved, moved in the right direction. They will not bother us. Let’s suppose that they will say something… so they say it? Eighty per cent of the Americans support us… We have such support there!”

— BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, speaking to a group of Jewish settlers in Ofra, Occupied Palestine, 2001, translated from the Hebrew.

Setting aside his exaggeration of Israel’s popularity with the American public, Netanyahu correctly anticipated the angry response, 15 years later, from the majority of both the House and Senate to President Obama’s decision to abstain from the December 23rd vote on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s Jewish-only settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

How dare, these trained seals barked, could President Obama betray America’s leading friend and ally at such a critical moment –with Israel every moment is critical–and their sentiments were echoed by the pundits of our national media.

Jump ahead to this Wednesday when Netanyahu, battered at home by a bevy of scandals that threaten to end his reign as Israel’s prime minister, comes to Washington to meet President Trump under circumstances considerably different than those imagined when The Donald won the White House and the invitation for the visit was extended.

It is assumed that the two men, who have known each other for some time, will manage to come up with a statement explaining why the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by Trump and the moving of the US embassy there that was supposed to happen almost immediately after Trump took office, is no more politically feasible now than it was under his predecessors and will have to wait.

Whatever statement either of them makes about Israel’s settlements, they will agree that the status quo with its tattered, deceitful, delusion about establishing a Palestinian state, which has provided a protective cover for expansion of the settlements, must still be on the agenda but that, too, will have to wait.

They will no doubt take great pleasure in telling the media why Iran, although surrounded by the US military bases and warships and despite the agreement with the US and the other P5 Plus One nations to curtail its nuclear program, remains the major threat to world peace and, lest we forget, “the leading state sponsor of terrorism”

What I am sure they will also discuss but make no mention to the public is their mutual respect, if not admiration for Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Trump, of course, has come under a constant barrage of criticism across the political spectrum for his unwillingness to criticize the Russian president and his stated belief that the US has more to gain by being friends with Moscow than enemies.

Before Trump entered the White House, five intelligence agencies and no less than three congressional committees had announced they would thoroughly investigate the allegations of Russia’s hacking of Democratic Party emails and its attempts to interfere in the US elections to benefit Trump

That Trump refused to back down under questioning by Fox’s Bill O’Reilly before the network’s broadcast of the Super Bowl and implied that President George W Bush’s war on Iraq made him no less a killer than the Russian president still has the neocons and war hawks  Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham frothing at the mouth.

Both of those senators, it should be pointed out, have made no secret of their affection for Israel and Netanyahu which makes the absence of any reporting of the following by the US media so interesting if not entertaining, and is the point of this article; demonstrating that the ability of Netanyahu (or any Israeli prime minister for that matter), to “move America” as it pleases, as quoted at the beginning, is not limited to its political class but necessarily includes those who control the content of its communications.

What the media has not mentioned, in obvious deference to Netanyahu and the Israel Lobby AKA Jewish political establishment in the US that supports him, is that over the last year and a half, but beginning well before Russia’s intervention in Syria, the Israeli prime minister and Putin have become the closest of allies with Netanyahu having made four state visits to Moscow in the last 16 months duly reported by the press of both countries that also provide upbeat reports on their frequent phone conversations.

That this bromance has occurred despite Russia’s support for Iran and the government of Syrian president Bashir Assad is one of the more bizarre developments of this millennium.

There are understandable geopolitical explanations for their relationship, some of which I will offer below, but that it has been kept from the eyes of the American public by the US media, I will argue, is equally if not more significant.

One can well imagine how most Americans who have been fed a steady of anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda and whose new president has been slammed repeatedly  for not denouncing him, would react if they were suddenly made aware that America’s great friend and ally, the prime minister of Israel is in bed, politically, with Washington’s long time bogeyman.

The solution? Better not tell them about it, proving what the late Alexander Cockburn pointed out during the question period following a talk he gave in Fort Bragg, on the Northern California coast. Zionist control of the US media is “observable.”

Netanyahu’s secretly recorded comments, from which those heading this article were extracted and translated, did not make it to the internet (where they can still be found) until June, 2010, almost a decade later yet have lost none of their relevance. Yet the closest they came to being reported by the mainstream press was in Glenn Kessler’s blog in the Washington Post on July 16 of that year.

When he spoke of moving America in the direction Israel desires, it is obvious that Netanyahu not only had in mind the White House and Congress, but also our national media.

As important as it has been for Israel’s domestic agents, AIPAC, ADL, AJC, ZOA, CAMERA, etc., to dictate the frames of reference and the language with which everything pertaining to Israel is presented to the American public, equally so is their need to ensure that stories that would damage Israel’s image or embarrass its US supporters never see the light of day. It is a challenging task and a subject that I wrote about in CounterPunch four years ago It periodically needs revisiting.

In that instance, what was kept secret was that in the space of a few hours at New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria in March, 2013, well-heeled American Jews had contributed a record $27 million tax-free dollars to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a “charity” dedicated to providing “educational, cultural, recreational, and social services programs and facilities” to soldiers of a foreign army of occupation that has not fought a major war since Richard Nixon was in the White House.

The FIDF, the nation’s fastest growing Jewish charity, holds numerous fundraisers around the country each year, the largest, by far, being in New York and Beverly Hills. The latter two consistently raise tens of millions of tax-exempt dollars.

Yet outside of the Israeli and American Jewish press and despite the presence of major Israeli military figures at the New York events and well known Hollywood celebrities at the Beverly Hills dinners, all of which are hosted by Israeli-American media billionaire Haim Saban, the local and network cameras television cameras have been notable by their absence as have been reporters from the local or national media.

The latest fundraiser in Beverly Hills, held just before the election, raised $38 million, presumably in symbolic recognition of Obama’s late September agreement to provide Israel with $38 billion for weaponry in the decade beginning in 2018. (The event did get mentioned in the Hollywood trade publications, Variety and Reporter, but only because of an incident in which Hillary Clinton supporter, actor Robert De Niro, refused to pose for a photo with Arnold Schwarznegger because the former governor had not endorsed Clinton. Nor had he endorsed Trump but that was not good enough for De Niro.)

The need for this censorship is obvious from the pro-Israel perspective. With thousands of US military veterans homeless on the streets of our cities, tens of thousands more suffering from PTSD, and an average of 22 committing suicide every day, it is likely that many of the donors’ fellow citizens would question not only the priorities but the loyalty of the FIDF’s wealthy donors and they would have every right to do so.

They would also have every right to question the loyalty of the censors and the integrity of those in the news rooms and television studios that follow their orders.

Protecting the image of Benjamin Netanyahu had, I suspect, a far higher priority.

After all, in 2011, just three days after dressing down President Obama at a White House news conference as if he was an errand school boy, he received 29 standing ovations from a joint session of Congress—the most Obama ever got was 25—and four years later, in another speech to both houses, designed to kill the administrations’ nuclear deal with Iran, he received another 29 standing ovations.

What the public has largely been allowed to know about the Netanyahu-Putin relationship is that the two agreed to an arrangement in 2015 that would allow Russian jets to conduct flights over Syria attacking anti-government forces without encountering Israeli aircraft while Russia would not interfere with Israel destroying what it claimed to be arms shipments intended for Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

In addition, in response to Israel’s objections, Russia delayed providing Iran with S-300 surface to air missiles which could be used by Tehran to defend itself from an attack by Israel against its nuclear facilities. The deal was only put back on the table and the missiles delivered after Iran signed the nuclear reduction deal with the US and the five members of the Security Council plus Germany.

The true extent of the Netanyahu-Putin relationship is not a secret, of course, to readers of the Israeli and Russian press.

Ha’aretz’ English online edition, of December 27, reported on the latest chapter in the relationship; that a desperate Netanyahu had appealed to Putin to have his UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, block the December 23rd vote in the Security Council condemning Israeli settlements and that Putin had attempted to do just that.

A few hours before the vote, having failed to persuade New Zealand  foreign minister, Murray McNully, to withdraw the resolution, according to the paper’s Barak Ravid, Netanyahu called Putin, urging him to do what he could to prevent its passage since, by then, he was aware that this time around, Washington was not going to rescue Israel with another veto.

The resolution, according to press reports, was originally scheduled to be introduced to the Security Council by Egypt the day before.  Egypt’s UN ambassador, however, removed it from the calendar after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi received calls from Netanyahu and from President-Elect Trump, at the former’s request, urging him to do so.

The governments of New Zealand, Malaysia and Venezuela, however, had the text of the resolution in their possession and they decided to introduce it themselves.

Since Israel has no diplomatic relations with either Malaysia or Venezuela, his led to an angry phone call from Netanyahu to McCully, threatening New Zealand with sanctions if he went ahead and introduced it. McNully not only refused to back down, he apparently relayed the contents and the tone of the conversation to his ambassador who passed it on to the others.

Putin was Netanyahu’s last resort. He called and asked the Russian president to intervene, to return a favor as it were. Just the day before, Israel had acceded to a Russian request that its delegate be absent from a vote in the UN General Assembly calling for the investigation of war crimes in Syria.

It is not entirely clear what happened in the conversation between Netanyahu and Putin, according to Ha’aretz’s Ravid, but “less than an hour before the vote a real drama took place at the UN headquarters in New York.”

While the Security Council member-states were preparing their speeches ahead of the vote and the public discussion that was held immediately that was to follow, the Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suddenly asked for a closed consultation.

A Western diplomat said that Churkin shocked the other ambassadors of the 14 Security Council member-states when he proposed postponing the vote until after Christmas. There had not been enough discussion on the wording of the resolution, Churkin claimed, and said he was surprised at the haste of some of the countries to hold a vote as quickly as possible.

The deputy Russian ambassador to Israel, Alexy Drobinin, confirmed this in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday morning.

Drobinin told Army Radio that Russia had objections to the timing of the resolution and that Russia’s representative in New York was the only one who asked to continue discussing it. Drobinin said it should be taken into consideration that a few weeks from now there would be a new administration in the United States, and that Russia was not satisfied with the way the resolution was brought to a vote. (Emphasis added.)

He said the problem was not the content, but the timing and the fact that the resolution related only to one out of the many core issues of the conflict.

Back at the UN, Churkin’s remarks had fallen on deaf ears. The other ambassadors at the meeting rejected them and demanded to move ahead on the vote which passed 14-0, eliciting a rare round of applause in the Security Council chambers. The US ambassador Samantha Power abstained from that as well.

That was certainly a newsworthy story, given the attention paid by the US media to the vote but, of course, it would have raised embarrassing questions for Israel and its supporters in Congress that they would have had problems answering. It clearly didn’t qualify as news that was “fit to print.”

Israel’s absenting itself from the UN General Assembly vote the previous day was not the first time Netanyahu had done such a favor for Putin. On March 27, 2014 much to the displeasure of the Obama administration, it did the same when Power introduced a resolution censuring the annexation of Crimea by Russia although the latter wasn’t mentioned by name.

Not surprisingly, Israel’s failure to back its supposedly inseparable ally did not rate a comment in the US media despite State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki’s admission that the US was “surprised” at Israel’s decision not to support Washington at the time.

According to the Jerusalem Post (3/15/2014), Psaki was responding to a question regarding a report in the Israeli media that the US was infuriated with Israel not standing with the US on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

She said this was not how the US would characterize its reaction to Israel on this issue.

“We were surprised, Psaki said, that Israel did not join the vast majority of countries that voted to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the United Nations”.

This not insignificant exchange went unreported in the US media despite, we must assume, that its Washington correspondents were present and heard it.

Pressed afterward by the White House to take a position backing US policy on Ukraine, Israel’s foreign ministry, headed by Soviet Union born Avigidor Liberman, responded with a statement that could hardly have been more non-committal:

“Israel is following with great concern the events in Ukraine, it is anxious for peace for all its citizens and hope that the situation will not deteriorate to a loss of human life. Israel expects the crisis in Ukraine will be handled through diplomatic means and will be resolved peacefully,”

That statement, too, went unreported.

Israel’s decision to part ways with the US over Ukraine, the only one of its allies to do so, was reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas.

Addressing the conflict between Israel’s foreign policy and that of American Jewish neocons and their allies whose initial animus towards the Soviet Union and afterward to Russia, is as much a driving force as their devotion to Israel, Kampeas wrote:

“Israel’s reluctance to side too closely with the United States in its bid to isolate Russia is typical of an Israeli realpolitik that has led to past conflicts with the American neoconservatives, who prize humanitarian (sic) interventionism.”

“But Israel’s stance is not sufficiently consequential to set off a fight between friends,” he noted, citing Seth Mandel, assistant editor at Commentary, theoretical founding organ of Jewish neoconservatives.

According to Mandel, “There’s generally, when it comes to the categories of differences of opinions between Israel and neoconservatives, two categories: the ones that directly impact U.S. policy and the ones that don’t.”

Another Washington neocon, Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, sent an email to the Times of Israel regarding Israel’s refusal to back the US on Ukraine:

“It doesn’t affect support for the democratic state of Israel among American friends. That’s not the way it works. They’re an independent country, and have the right to be foolish; I don’t think anyone devotes even a minute to considering the Israeli position on Ukraine.”

What time they do devote is to keeping the American public from knowing about it.  With the media in AIPAC’s pocket, they have succeeded.

A rare exception occurred during the George W Bush administration when the neocons in and around the White House whose anti-communism led to their support for Taiwan, were blindsided and infuriated when Israel was caught selling weapons to China that incorporated US technology

At the moment, the Israeli and Russian leaders seem to be fulfilling each other’s needs, Netanyahu as a counter to Washington in its quest for regime change in Moscow, and Putin as guaranteeing that Israel will not be pressured into making concessions either to the Palestinians or to Syria regarding the Golan Heights. Both say they have a shared interest in fighting “Islamic terrorism.”

But beyond that, the two men seem to enjoy a chemistry that neither has found elsewhere.

That is how the Jerusalem Post’s lead writer, Herb Keinon, described it in November, 2013 when Putin and Netanyahu had their first meeting in Moscow.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu emerged from his nearly four-and-a-half hours of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that the talks were “very good,” “genuine,” “direct,” and that not only have the two men developed a “chemistry,” but the two countries they lead have many overlapping interests.

None of which gives much of an indication of what really happened behind closed doors, or what was said when the two men met one-on-one for between an hour and 90 minutes. Those details, as Netanyahu himself said, will have to wait for his biography.

What can be learned from the Israeli media is that over the past 16 months, Netanyahu has made four state visits to Moscow the last of which, in June, 2016, featured the handing over to Israel of an American-made Israeli tank that had been abandoned by its crew during a battle with Syrian forces during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

It was then sent to Russia for examination and has since been exhibited at a military museum in Moscow. Netanyahu had requested the return of the tank at an earlier meeting between the two in Moscow that April. There was no indication whether or not Syria had been consulted.

The report about the return of the tank was reported in the New York Times (6/6/16) under the byline of Isabel Kershner, the paper’s longtime senior correspondent in Israel. It was one of the rare mentions in the media of the “growing cooperation” between the two countries.

Kershner noted the large number of Russian Israelis from the old Soviet Union who are receiving pensions from Moscow—there are over a million in Israel–but her article largely focused on the desire on the part of Israelis to learn what had happened to three Israeli soldiers who had been part of the tank’s crew and had abandoned it.

What Kershner failed to mention were the most important results of Netanyahu’s visit.

According to Israel Defense News and the intelligence site, the debka file, the two leaders decided at their June 7 meeting to deepen the military ties between the Russian and Israeli armed forces which, citing reports from military and intelligence sources, led to speculation that “the historic  decision spells the end of the IDF’s unique relationship with the US military.”

That remains to be seen, but further, according to the report, Putin and Netanyahu decided that a joint exercise by the Israeli and Russian naval and air forces will be held this summer as part of the first stage of expanded ties. If they go through with these exercises, keeping that out of the US press will present quite a challenge.

The bilateral decision for the joint war game was reportedly tied to an agreement to allow Russian gas companies to compete for contracts to develop offshore natural gas fields claimed by Israel, confirming what Netanyahu had said in Moscow, that “Our doors are open now to all companies from all countries that have substantial experience in developing gas fields, including Russia of course.”

According to this report,

Putin had tried repeatedly to win a foothold for Russian companies, especially energy giant Gazprom, in the development of Israel’s offshore gas fields and export industry.

The Russian leader tried to convince Netanyahu by saying that the presence of the Russian navy and air force in the area would guarantee that no Arab or Muslim military force, such as those of Iran, Syria and Hizballah (sic), would attack the gas fields.

In October of 2015, shortly after Russia entered the Syrian conflict, Ha’aretz’s military correspondent Anshel Pfeffer, analyzed the Netanyahu-Putin relationship in an article, entitled, “Israel’s Hushed Military Ties with Russia Now Paying Off.”

Noting that the Pentagon was refusing to hold “de-confliction” talks with the Russian Defense Ministry to coordinate the two nations’ air-operations over Syria and would make do with just “technical details,” Pfeffer wrote:

The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested, and received, a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, immediately when the Russian deployment to Syria began, should not come as a surprise.

Despite Israel’s strategic ties with the United States, both sides have maintained a discreet and intimate security relationship which is much closer than meets the eye.

Israel received from Putin in 2008 advance warning of Russia’s plans to attack Georgia, in a personal meeting he had with former president Shimon Peres at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. This enabled Israel to call back in time private defense contractors and advisers who were working at the time with the Georgian army.”

If you are with me so far, you will see a different picture emerging of both Netanyahu and Putin than what one finds in the US media. For those who have been led to see the Israeli prime minister as a staunch friend and ally of the United States, the evidence paints him as more of an opportunist who takes full advantage of the power of the Jewish political and religious establishment in the United States to lead its politicians around by the nose while milking its taxpayers for everything he can get. To cite his own words, he finds America “easy to move.”

Putin was compared by Hillary Clinton to Hitler following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in response to what was clearly a US orchestrated coup in Ukraine directed at reviving NATO and taking it to Russia’s doorstep. His subsequent actions are those of a nationalist leader trying to stymie Washington’s efforts at another regime change, his, and his alliance with Netanyahu as with his successful restoring of relations with Turkey’s Recipe Erdogan is a sign of that . This, by the same measure, led him to prefer Trump who praised him as a strong leader to the point where some have accused him of being a Russian agent or Putin’s Manchurian Candidate for refusing to step back from that position.

It is a bizarre situation beyond anyone’s imagination and may give the concept of a menage a trois a whole new meaning.

Jeffrey Blankfort is a radio host and journalist in Northern California and can be contacted at