Dennis Ross: It was taken very seriously, starting in 2010 but especially in the summer of 2012. I explain in the Obama chapter that one of the reasons for his interview with you and then his speech to AIPAC in March 2012—where Obama comes out explicitly in favor of prevention, not containment—is because of [former Israeli Defense Minister] Ehud Barak’s increasing emphasis on the “zone of immunity” [in which Israel would no longer have the military option to strike]. Obama’s emphasis at this time was on prevention.
Goldberg: OK, about this land mine you planted in the book: You report that Susan Rice complained to Abe Foxman that Netanyahu was treating Obama terribly. At one particular point—
Ross: —It had to do with Netanyahu’s reaction to the interim Iran agreement, the Joint Plan of Action, which was done in December 2013.
Goldberg: And according to Foxman’s account, Rice felt as if Netanyahu was—
Ross: —Using everything but the “n-word.”
Goldberg: Do you think that Bibi has racist feelings toward Obama?
Goldberg: Do you credit Susan’s interpretation of what was going on in these meetings?
Ross: Look, I don’t think that she meant it that way. I think she felt that Bibi’s criticism of the interim deal, in her eyes, was so beyond the pale—to mix my metaphors—that this is the way she reacted to it. She has a tendency to be very competitive, anyway.
Goldberg: There is a belief on the part of some people around Obama that Netanyahu is very condescending toward the president—that he treats him as a naive, not very intelligent person. Do you agree that Netanyahu is condescending to Obama?
Ross: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s condescending, and I don’t think he’s condescending towards Obama. Look, many of their meetings were characterized by a very high-level discussion—serious, intellectual, thoughtful. Oftentimes, each of them would walk out of meetings feeling that that was a serious meeting, and then one or the other would do something afterwards that would be perceived as, “Oh, there they go again.”
Goldberg: Do you think that Obama believes that Netanyahu has racist feelings toward him?
Ross: I don’t think so.
Goldberg: You’ve talked to the president about Bibi quite a bit—
Ross: Here’s the way I think he reads Bibi—he looks at Bibi and he thinks, “This is a guy who sees no possibilities in ever changing anything, and is kind of down in the bunker.”
Goldberg: They admire each other’s intelligence?
Goldberg: Why did you report this in the book, if you don’t think that Rice is correct to interpret Bibi’s interactions with the president as insulting and condescending?
Ross: I did it for one reason only, because I was trying to encapsulate the anger that describes their reaction to Bibi’s view of the deal. In my mind, there were few ways to better encapsulate how angry they were over his reaction. And of course, he was angry, because he felt that Israel has been largely blindsided by this. I know this not just from Bibi, because I happened to be over there at the time. I know it from the security people on their side, including the intelligence people on their side, who were saying they were being briefed, but that there was no indication that the kind of deal that suddenly emerged with the Joint Plan of Action was about to emerge.