US ambassador admits he ‘screwed up’ by equating Israeli terror victims with slain terrorists

In an exclusive interview, the outgoing U.S. envoy says reports of a “less for less” deal with Iran are simply untrue.

By Ariel Kahana, JNS

The Biden administration has no objection to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expected visit to China, according to outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.

Speaking ahead of his departure in the summer, Nides rejected the claim that Israel-U.S. ties have weakened, saying they are “rock solid.” Nides also expressed regrets about his tweet on June 20, the day of a deadly terrorist attack near Eli, which appeared to compare the tragic murders to a recent Israeli military operation in Jenin.

Q: Netanyahu is expected to visit China and possibly meet President Xi Jinping before meeting President Joe Biden. What is your reaction?

A: We don’t tell leaders who they can and can’t be with. He’s a democratic leader. If he wants to go meet with President Xi, he can go meet with President Xi or not. We’re not telling people who they should not meet with.”

Q: What about a meeting with Biden? We are seven months into Netanyahu’s term, but he has yet to have received an invitation.

A: It will happen at some point, there’s no question about it. When it happens? I have no idea… The reality is, the president will make a decision, the prime minister will make a decision, on when they’ll get together. They know each other.

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Q: Do you agree that this does not look good?

A: Again, President Isaac Herzog, the president of your country, is coming in July to speak to a joint session [of Congress], and he’ll meet the president for the 75th anniversary [of Israel’s founding].

Q: So the president will have met Herzog twice within 12 months, but not even once with the old-new prime minister?

A: President Biden has probably met with Bibi Netanyahu about 30 times. So I’m not worried about their relationship. I’m really not. I mean, there will be a meeting, they will meet in the White House. There’ll be a beautiful meeting. It’d be a beautiful conversation. I’m not worried about that.

But listen, as you all know, Israel is going through a lot of consternation right now. Judicial reform, and other things. Ultimately, I think everyone wants things to settle down a little bit so the visit doesn’t turn into a big, you know, rap about the current events, and we can focus on the big things.

One thing that Netanyahu has said over and over again, he wants to focus on the big things. Iran, normalization with Saudi Arabia. That’s what he wants to do. All this other stuff is, in my humble view, is a distraction. He has his hands on the wheel, as he’s told me millions of times, and he wants to focus on big things, and that’s what he should be focused on. And that’s what we want to focus on.

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The new Iran deal

Nides, who is expected to complete his posting within several weeks, denied recent reports that Iran and the U.S. have reached “understandings” on the former’s nuclear program.

“There are no understandings. This is completely blown out of proportion. We’ve said this over and over again—there is no deal on the table. There is no ‘less-for-less’ deal. It doesn’t exist. I mean, would there be at some point, something that we can grab onto? Who knows? But there’s nothing. You’re not going to wake up tomorrow and read about it.

“By the way, Israel knows everything we have done and said. If you ask the Israelis, they know exactly what conversations we’ve had. But there is no deal. We’ve said this 100 times: There’s no deal. Ultimately, the president has made it very clear that he would love a diplomatic solution, or at least to slow the program down. That’s true. But there is no deal.

Contrary to the Obama administration, President Biden said when he took office that he would make sure Israel was never blindsided by the United States, said Nides.

“And I think we fulfilled that commitment to both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and now Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I think they all understand that we’ll be totally transparent. Transparent that we’re not gonna let Iran get a nuclear weapon, that we obviously are going to try to do plenty of deterrence, which is what the Israelis want us to do, including joint exercises, doing the things that send strong messages. We’re doing all of that, which we said we’re going to do.”

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Q: On the day of the Eli terrorist attack, you posted a tweet that essentially compared the murdered Israelis and terrorists killed by IDF soldiers during a raid in Jenin. After an hour you posted a correction. What happened there?

A: I screwed up. I had just returned from Los Angeles when I got word of the attack. I was shown a draft of a tweet and I signed off on it. But it was a stupid thing to do. Moments later, I saw that Bennett had tried to reach me. I asked him, “What happened?” and he said I had screwed up. And so I made sure to immediately issue another tweet [that included a clear condemnation of the terrorist attack]. In no way do I compare terrorists and those who are murdered by terror.

You know I have gone to many funerals and visited many bereaved families, including those beyond the Green Line, despite the opposition of those in Washington. I will not accept a situation in which I only visit two families of victims from a certain attack but do not go to the third victim’s family just 20 minutes from there just because they live across the Green Line. This tweet was the first time that I messed up like this.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.