French President Nicholas Sarkozy doesn't necessarily think that Binyamin Netanyahu is an actual “liar,” even though he called the Prime Minister one last month. What Netanyahu did was perhaps worse – violating “French pride.”
So Sarkozy said to member of the Jewish community when he met with several weeks ago, in the wake of the comment scandal, it was revealed Wednesday. In a 20 minute meeting with Jewish community officials, Sarkozy said that the comment was due to what he considered the mistreatment of France in the arrangements made for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
Sarkozy's feelings about Netanyahu's honesty, or lack of it, inadvertently became public knowledge in early November, when the French president chatted with U.S. President Barack H. Obama about the Israeli leader. In front of an open microphone (that they thought was not working at the time), Sarkozy called Netanyahu “a liar” whom he could “not tolerate.” Obama sympathized, but said that he had it even worse, because “I have to deal with him every day.”
In the wake of the scandal, the White House issued a laconic statement, saying that the discussion regarding Israel should be focused on issues, not personalities. But in France, Sarkozy has taken heat for his comment; if Obama's comment was open to interpretation, Sarkozy's certainly wasn't.
But Sarkozy said he had a good reason for saying what he said, at least from a French point of view. According to Sarkozy, France had asked Israel for an active role in the release of Gilad Shalit. To that end, Sarkozy had asked Netanyahu to allow Shalit – a dual French-Israeli citizen – to be transported from Egypt to the Tel Nof Air Base in a French army helicopter. Israel rejected the offer, over security concerns. Israeli sources confirmed that France had made such a request.
Sarkozy added that Netanyahu had also refused to allow the French ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, to participate in the welcoming ceremony for Shalit at Tel Nof.
An Israeli official who was privy to the meeting's discussions said that Sarkozy told the French Jewish group that he had gotten very frustrated – considering that Shalit was a French citizen, and that Paris had put a great deal of work into freeing the kidnapped soldier. French pride was hurt, Sarkozy said, in that the French government – including himself - did not get any credit whatsoever for the release of Shalit. Thus, his anger boiled over and manifested itself in the comment.
But, speculated the Israeli official, what really ticked Sarkozy off wasn't the minimization of France's role in the release – but the promotion of Germany's role. After Shalit came home, Netanyahu took an official photo with German officials who participated in the ceremony – a photo that many French apparently took offense at, the official said – and feeding into the centuries-old competition between France and Germany.
In recent weeks Sarkozy has attempted to make up with Netanyahu, calling him a “good friend.”