Daily Kickoff: It was Boehner’s idea to invite Bibi; White House caught off guard despite NSA spying on Israel | Iran fires rockets near USS Truman

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DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “The Phone Call That Upended U.S.-Israel Relations” by Patrick O’Connor and Adam Entous: “Administration officials thought the idea was cooked up by Messrs. Dermer and Netanyahu, and then proposed to the Republicans in Congress. In fact, it was the other way around, congressional officials said… “We knew this would be a poke in the eye,” a person close to the Republican leaders said of the invitation. Initially, the two Republicans weren’t sure the prime minister would be eager to make that situation even worse by entering into a direct political fight with the president in Congress.”

“When Mr. Boehner called Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer on Jan. 9, the ambassador said he liked the idea and would sound out the prime minister, according to a person familiar with the call… The Boehner and McConnell teams had decided they would send a formal letter inviting Mr. Netanyahu on Jan. 21, one day after Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address. On Jan. 20, Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the negotiations with Iran, held a 45-minute meeting with Mr. Dermer, who didn’t say a word about the pending announcement, U.S. officials said.” [WashingtonWire]

FLASHBACK: Another reason the White House was upset over Bibi invite — News Cycle Timing: On Jan. 20, 2015, immediately following President Obama’s SOTU speech, then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer spoke to guests at the White House about the Administration’s new State of the Union strategy. “We wanted to try some new things. One of the traditions of the State of the Union, is you go out, you give your speech, then you barnstorm the country — used to be for Clinton — for a couple of weeks and you would discuss every proposal every day. What we’ve learned is that every year, the press attention and ‘the conversation’ in the country would get shorter after the State of the Union. So we would get three days in a couple years ago. Then last year, like by the second day people were asking ‘why are you in Wisconsin?’ or wherever we were. ‘What are you talking about?’ So we tried to do something different. Roll in, instead of roll out of the State of the Union. We feel it has worked very well.” [YouTube]

This past year, Pfeiffer and the White House didn’t even get one day of post-SOTU coverage as all media attention the morning after immediately pivoted towards Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu.

DEEP DIVE: “U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress” by Adam Entous and Danny Yadron:“President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs. But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu… There was little debate over Israel. “Going dark on Bibi? Of course we wouldn’t do that,” a senior U.S. official said, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.”

“The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an “Oh-s— moment,” one senior U.S. official said—that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress… A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”… One tool was a cyber implant in Israeli networks that gave the NSA access to communications within the Israeli prime minister’s office.” [WSJ]

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price emails… “We are not going to comment on any specific alleged intelligence activities. As a general matter, and as we have said previously, we do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike. When it comes to Israel, President Obama has said repeatedly that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct. This message has always been backed by concrete actions that demonstrate the depth of U.S. support for Israel.”

Mark Knoller tweets: “Speaker’s office looking into WSJ report that communications with US lawmakers by Israeli officials also gathered in the surveillance.” [Twitter]

Pete Hoekstra, former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweets: “WSJ report that NSA spied on Congress and Israel communications very disturbing. Actually outrageous. Maybe unprecedented abuse of power. NSA and Obama officials need to be investigated and prosecuted if any truth to WSJ reports. NSA loses all credibility. Scary.” [Twitter]

Ted Cruz told reporters: “I think the WSJ story is indicative of the Obama Clinton foreign policy and their inability to distinguish friends from enemies, and we’ve seen for seven years, this administration, the Obama administration has been the most hostile and antagonistic to the nation of Israel in our country’s history. We’ve also seen Hillary Clinton, when asked to name her enemies, doesn’t name Iran, doesn’t name radical Islamic terrorists but names republicans, names half of America as her enemy, and in that context, I have to say it’s not surprising that the Administration’s focus would be on trying to intercept the communications of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

MEANWHILE… “Iran fires rockets near US aircraft carrier” by Kristina Wong: “Several Iranian military vessels approached and fired unguided rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier traveling through international waters, two U.S. officials confirmed to The Hill. The Iranian vessels came as close at 1,500 yards from the USS Harry S. Truman before firing the rockets in a direction away from the carrier. The official called the incident “certainly unnecessarily provocative” and “unsafe.” It happened last week, on Dec. 26, as the Truman was transiting the Strait of Hormuz, “an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane,” the official said.” [TheHillNBCNews]

“Iran Deal Hits a Milestone as Challenges Mount” by John Hudson: “The anger on Capitol Hill over the Iranian ballistic missile test poses one major challenge. The Obama administration says it’s considering ways to punish Iran for its missile test, but it maintains that Tehran’s launch only violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, not the Iran deal itself. As such, the administration is opposed to the GOP proposals that would put the United States in violation of the agreement.” [ForeignPolicy• “Salehi reveals new details of secret US, Iran back channel” [AlMonitor]

David Ignatius: “Despite the nuclear deal, Iran continues its economic sabotage” [WashPost]

“How Barack will juggle Bibi, Vlad and Hillary” by Michael Crowley: “Bibi Netanyahu is waiting him out. Vladimir Putin may try to test him. And Hillary Clinton is keeping a wary eye on him. As he enters the final year of his presidency, Barack Obama will find his foreign policy complicated in new ways by the clock ticking down to his last day in office… Getting Netanyahu back to the negotiating table will be nearly impossible. In an inverse of Putin’s calculation, the Israeli leader knows that Obama’s successor is almost certain to take a more sympathetic line toward Israel. Short of restarting peace talks, Obama could publicly endorse parameters for a future peace deal—either through a presidential address, or via a resolution at the United Nations Security Council, said Ilan Goldenberg.” [Politico]

Peter Beinart: “2015: The Year America Said Kaddish for the Peace Process: The new ‘war on terror’ has made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a sideshow.” [Haaretz]

2016 WATCH: “GOP Race Shows Sharp Divisions on Foreign Affairs” by Felicia Schwartz:“A number of 2016 GOP contenders have ditched a foreign-policy playbook that has guided the party for years, advocating a narrower use of military force rather than the muscular use of American power and democracy building. “You’ve got some candidates who really are a departure from the Republican outlook on things, from mainstream American foreign policy from at least 1940, if not before,” said Eliot Cohen.”

“Mr. Cruz backed ending the bulk collection of phone records, which Mr. Rubio has used to paint Mr. Cruz as weak on national security. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate, is also a strong supporter of revamping U.S. surveillance. “It’s right to think about the political spectrum as a circle, at a certain moment there is a convergence between extremists on the left and the right,” said Danielle Pletka.” [WSJ]

“Clinton breaks with Obama over ‘genocide’ of Middle East Christians” by Hanna Trudo:“Hillary Clinton broke with President Barack Obama over the plight of Christians and other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Middle East, telling a New Hampshire crowd that the Islamic State’s persecution of them should be labeled a “genocide.”” [PoliticoAP]

On the Campaign Trail in New Hampshire — by Jacob Kornbluh: During his 48th town hall meeting in Keene, NH, John Kasich said, “Israel is our friend. If I have something to say to them that is critical, I will say it in private. And if a Prime Minister of Israel wants to come to America, I will meet with him every time and every day – whatever he wants to do, or she wants to do.”

On ISIS, Kasich broke with most of his Republican colleagues, saying ISIS needs to be defeated by a U.S.-led coalition similar to the one established during the Gulf War, but removing Assad from power must also be a top priority. “I believe in supporting the rebels in Syria because Assad has got to go. He’s a butcher and it’s an alignment between Iran and Russia and Assad,” he said.

Asked why he repeatedly quotes the Talmud “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” Kasich responded, “It’s just — I think it’s true – if you save one life, you save the world. I think it says it all, and because it’s inscribed on the wall of the Holocaust memorial in my state capital.”

“Kasich gains support of Ron Burkle” by Alex Isenstadt: “Ohio Gov. John Kasich has secured the support of Ron Burkle, a billionaire investor who has been a prominent supporter of Democrats over the years — including the Clintons. Burkle is slated to host a Jan. 12 fundraiser for the Republican presidential candidate at the Soho House in Los Angeles. The event is also expected to draw a number of other major political donors, including financier Gary Winnick and businessman Harry Sloan.” [Politico]

“Tom Hicks to Host Rubio Fundraiser in Dallas” by Jacob Kornbluh: “In June 1998, Hicks bought the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball’s American League from George W. Bush, the brother of Rubio’s rival Jeb Bush. Jewish donors listed as hosts include Nathan Mitzner, Eric Axel, Eric Green and David Veeder.” [JewishInsider]

**Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI].  Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email editor@jewishinsider.com**

TOP TALKER: “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions” by Noam Scheiber and Patricia Cohen: “The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates. Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back… and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.” [NYTimes]

STARTUP SPOTLIGHT: “‘Shazam for Photos’ IDs Famous Faces for Paparazzi” by Amy Keyishian: “Steve Eichner got tired of answering the same question over and over again. As a veteran photographer for the fashion biz’s Women’s Wear Daily, there was a constant tap-tap-tapping on his shoulder as he photographed models and socialites. The solution was his new service, NameFace.com, which has already been called the “Shazam for photography” for its ability to answer the question, “I know that guy, who is that?”… One more fun fact about Steve Eichner: His baby half-brother, via his father, is Billy Eichner of Billy on the Street.” [ReCodeVogue]

HOLLYWOOD: “Watch One of Brett Ratner’s First Short Films” [TabletMag]

“The name’s Bond – Shlomo Bond” by Sandy Rashty: “James Bond is a Jew. At least, that’s what more than 300 people were told at a Limmud session with Rabbi Raphael Zarum, of the London School of Jewish Studies, on Monday afternoon. Dr Zarum told attendees that Ian Fleming’s character – which has been played on screen by Sean Connery, Roger Moore and of late, Daniel Craig – is based on the life of Sidney Reilly, born Shlomo Rosenblum, a 19th-century Russian-Jewish spy who worked for Britain.”[TheJC]

DESSERT: “A Maker of Avant-Garde Candy” by Joshua David Stein: “As a young girl growing up in Jerusalem, Maayan Zilberman whiled away the hours with a little oven in her mother’s apartment. An early influence was a Hebrew cookbook titled “Birthday Cakes,” by Judy Mendelson. “It was my bible,” she said. In 2008, Ms. Zilberman began baking highbrow, high-concept cakes. She called her project WaveCake, after Norman Lear’s 1981 TV movie, “The Wave.”.. That’s when candy came calling. “I was looking for something with shelf life,” she said, holding a multicolored crystal in her hand. “Something that would last.” [NYTimes]

BIRTHDAYS: Sanford Braun, born in Borough Park in Brooklyn, who upon his mother’s remarriage when he was a child, changed his name to Sandy Koufax, turns 80… Matt Lauer turns 58… Lauer’s father was of Romanian Jewish heritage, as seen on the Today Show’s Finding Our Roots… David Micley, Fellowship Director at TAMID… Ellen Gordon… Phil Goldstein… Larry Mandel… Rabbi Michael Menitoff… Ian Morris… Lital Casper Rosenberg, Synagogue Initiative Deputy Director at AIPAC Chicago… Jacob Levkowicz…

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