Did President Trump Try to ‘Rescue’ PM Netanyahu With a Phone Call?

YERUSHALAYIM -
President Donald Trump, accompanied by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Donald Trump, accompanied by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Jan. 28. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A phone call by U.S. President Donald Trump to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has become the subject of a mini-conspiracy theory in both Israel and the United States – but officials on both sides of the Atlantic disputed a charge by The New York Times that the president’s call was “conveniently timed” to break the momentum of questioning by police in the corruption investigations Mr. Netanyahu is caught up in.

According to the Times, PM Netanyahu’s praise for President Trump’s friendship for Israel and the Jewish community has “helped inoculate the president from charges that he had not responded swiftly enough to a skein of threats against Jewish community centers and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.” Mr. Trump, in turn, was happy to help out his Israeli counterpart. “Mr. Trump’s conveniently timed call was a not-so-subtle reminder to Israel’s attorney general that indicting Mr. Netanyahu — a step that would precipitate his resignation as a prime minister — could harm Israel’s national security at a dangerous time,” the Times report said.

The report quoted former Special Envoy to the Middle East Martin Indyk as confirming the theory. “It appears that President Trump is prepared to go a long way to help Prime Minister Netanyahu with his domestic difficulties and that Netanyahu, in return, is willing to provide a kosher seal of approval for a president who was slow to condemn anti-Semitism,” saidMr. Indyk.

Responsible for the timing, said the Times, were Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the administration’s Middle East policy expert. The “choreography” behind the call “bore the imprint” of the two, who “speak regularly and were instrumental in setting up the visit.”

But according to Israeli officials quoted in Globes, the fact that the phone call came during a police questioning session did not mean that Mr. Netanyahu or anyone acting on his behalf timed the call to interrupt the questioning. It was President Trump who initiated the call to discuss the latest missile test by Iran, and after scrambling for several hours to schedule the call, the American and Israeli officials who worked on the project managed to find a time that worked for both leaders. The occurrence of the call during the questioning session was coincidental, the officials said.

The Times report noted that “American and Israeli officials insist they did not coordinate Mr. Trump’s call for political effect. White House officials said Mr. Trump told aides on Monday morning he wanted to speak to Mr. Netanyahu; the two sides spent a few hours setting up the call, which just happened to occur during the interrogation.”