The Cable

Hot Mic Catches a Fiery Bibi in Budapest

In a closed-door meeting, the Israeli prime minister talked tough on Syria — and even tougher on the EU.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) arrive at the main hall of Pesti Vigado cultural center prior a joint press conference with V4 - Visegrad countries Prime Ministers in Budapest, Hungary, on July 19, 2017.
As part of a landmark Hungary visit, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu meets leaders of the so-called Visegrad group, whose nationalists stances have increasingly placed them at odds with the rest of the EU. / AFP PHOTO / PETER KOHALMI        (Photo credit should read PETER KOHALMI/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) arrive at the main hall of Pesti Vigado cultural center prior a joint press conference with V4 - Visegrad countries Prime Ministers in Budapest, Hungary, on July 19, 2017. As part of a landmark Hungary visit, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu meets leaders of the so-called Visegrad group, whose nationalists stances have increasingly placed them at odds with the rest of the EU. / AFP PHOTO / PETER KOHALMI (Photo credit should read PETER KOHALMI/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was caught on a hot mic in Budapest today, landing him in hot water.

Speaking in the Hungarian capital during a closed-door meeting with the Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian prime ministers, Netanyahu admitted to striking targets in Syria and assailed the European Union for imposing “crazy” conditions on its relationship with Israel. Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, uploaded an audio recording of the prime minister’s remarks to the internet.

Before arriving in Budapest, Netanyahu called upon French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, where he reiterated his opposition to a cease-fire in southern Syrian brokered by Russia and the United States. In an earlier statement, the Israeli prime minister cited fears that the agreement could “enable the establishment of a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria.”

Today, Netanyahu made clear that he’d taken matters into his own hands. Noting that Iran is “trying to build a terror front [in Syria],” he said: “When we see them transferring weapons to Hezbollah, we will hurt them. We did it dozens of times.” Hezbollah, a Shiite Lebanese militia, is widely considered a proxy of Tehran. The group has thrown its weight behind Bashar al-Assad, head of the Syrian regime, who is no friend of Israel.

The Israeli prime minister’s remarks came in the context of a discussion of border walls; Netanyahu told assembled leaders of what’s known as the Visegrad Group, “We blocked the border not only in Egypt but in the Golan Heights.” In 2015, the Hungarian government turned to Israel for advice when it fenced off its borders with Croatia and Serbia in a bid to block migrants.

Those fences earned Hungary the opprobrium of Brussels, which has come down hard against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for his efforts to keep migrants out of the EU (and out of Hungary, if they’re already in the EU). But the three other members states of the Visegrád Group have largely supported Budapest’s tough stance on the migration issue. Netanyahu sought to place himself firmly in the group’s camp today, imploring his audience, “Don’t undermine the one European, Western country that defends European values and European interests and prevents another mass migration.”

He continued, “The EU is undermining its security by undermining Israel,” referring to Brussel’s support for the cause of Palestinian statehood. The prime minister lamented “conditions” the EU imposes upon its relationship with Israel. Those conditions include guidelines requiring products from Israeli settlements in the disputed Golan Heights and West Bank to be labeled as such.

At this juncture, Orban joined in, saying: “The EU places conditions on the ones already inside the EU, not only the countries on the outside.” Brussels recently brought legal action against Hungary after Orban’s government passed a series of laws that single out foreign-funded NGOs and universities. Opponents of those laws say they’re thinly-veiled attempts to punish Hungarian-born Jewish financier George Soros for supporting organizations critical of Orban.

Soros also happens to be Netanyahu’s bête-noire, too. The financier also supports civil society groups critical of the Israeli prime minister’s government. Netanyahu and Orban have bonded over the latter’s much-maligned anti-Soros PR campaign, which covered Hungary in posters that read, “Don’t let George Soros have the last laugh.” Israel’s ambassador to Hungary expressed concern that the posters, which draw on the Nazi-era “Laughing Jew” trope, could embolden anti-Semitism. Netanyahu promptly swept the ambassador’s under the rug.

“Netanyahu’s remarks were accidentally transmitted to the earbuds distributed among reporters, though his people discovered the transmission and shut it down within a few minutes,” Haaretz reported.

Photo Credit: PETER KOHALMI/AFP/Getty Images

Noah Buyon is a digital intern.

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