Intelligence Committee Chair Describes Explosive Confrontation Between Netanyahu and American Ambassador

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro allegedly argued over the Obama's administration's Iran policy.

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(Reuters)

Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says that his much-discussed meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem late last month did, in fact, devolve into an sharp confrontation between Netanyahu and the American ambassador to Israel, the former National Security Council official (and former Obama campaign Jewish liaison), Dan Shapiro.

Rogers told a Michigan radio interviewer earlier this week that he had not previously witnessed such a high-level confrontation, and he described Israeli leaders as being at "wits' end" over what they see as President Obama's unwillingness to provide them with his "red lines" in the effort to stop Iran's nuclear program. He also said that neither the Israelis nor the Iranians believe that Obama would use force to stop the nuclear program. (UPDATE: Rogers said as well he believes the Israelis will "probably" bomb Iran if they don't get clearer red lines from the U.S.)

Rogers description of the meeting directly contradicts repeated Administration assertions that there is "no daylight" on the Iran issue with the Israeli government. Shortly after the meeting took place, Israeli press reports appeared suggesting  that Netanyahu and Shapiro had engaged in an argument, but Shapiro soon dismissed those reports, calling them "silly" and saying, "The published account of that meeting did not reflect what actually occurred in the meeting. The conversations were entirely friendly and professional."

Rogers, speaking to WJR radio host Frank Beckmann, painted a very different picture. He said the meeting, originally scheduled to be a discussion of intelligence and technical issues between himself and the prime minister, spun out of control when Netanyahu began lambasting Shapiro over the Administration's Iran policy. When Beckmann asked Rogers to describe the tenor of the meeting, he said: "Very tense. Some very sharp... exchanges and it was very, very clear the Israelis had lost their patience with the (Obama) Administration." He went on, "There was no doubt. You could not walk out of that meeting and think that they had not lost their patience with this Administration."

Rogers said Israeli frustration grows from what they see -- and he sees -- as a refusal by the Obama Administration to outline an endgame: "(I)t was very clear the overarching policy has been frustrating mainly because I think it's not very clear. What we walked out of that meeting knowing is that the Administration was trying to defend itself." By the end, he said, there was a "sharp exchange between the Administration's representative there, our ambassador there, and Mr. Netanyahu, which was unusual to say the least, but I thought at the end of the day maybe productive."

Beckmann then asked: "Is it inaccurate to say it was a shouting match?" Rogers answered: "I can say that there were elevated concerns on behalf of the Israelis." When asked if he had "ever seen that sort of thing before," Rogers answered: "No not that directly. We've had sharp exchanges with other heads of state and in intelligence services and other things, but nothing at that level that I've seen in all my time where people were clearly that agitated, clearly that worked up about a particular issue where there was a very sharp exchange."

Rogers went on to describe what he understands to be the Israeli frustration, and, apparently, his frustration, with the impact of sanctions: "Here's the problem. ....I support the sanctions. But if you're going to have a hammer you have to have an anvil. You have to have at least a  credible threat of a military option. So it's having an effect, yes, it's having an effect on the Iranian economy. It is not impacting their race on enrichment and other things, and that's very very clear." He went on, "I think the Israeli position is, 'Hey, listen, you've got to tell us -- I mean, if you want us to wait' --  and that's what this Administration's been saying, you've gotta wait, you've gotta wait, you've gotta wai -- got that -- 'but then you've gotta tell us when is the red line so we can make our own decisions about should we or shouldn't we stop this particular program."

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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