Netanyahu Seems Angry at Obama – No Meeting Planned, but They Had a Phone Chat

by Dan Raviv in Washington

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained (Tuesday) about Israel being urged to delay any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He made a point of declaring, in English, to reporters in Jerusalem covering a meeting with foreign dignitaries:  “The world tells Israel: ‘Wait! There’s still time!’  And I say, ‘Wait for what?'”

Israeli officials then leaked the news that — at least from their point of view — President Barack Obama was refusing to adjust his schedule to allow for a meeting with Netanyahu.  The Israeli leader is scheduled to be in New York to address the United Nations on September 27, the day after the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur.  The White House says Obama will be at the U.N. earlier in that week, not on September 28.

A White House official then added that Netanyahu had never asked for a meeting in Washington, and no request for a meeting had been rejected.  Late Tuesday came the news — from the White House — that Obama and Netanyahu chatted by telephone for an hour.  The main subject was “the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program” and close U.S.-Israeli cooperation, according to the White House, as reported by JTA. <http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/09/11/3106736/obama-netanyahu-discuss-iran >

It seems that both leaders wanted to back away from the appearance of a bitter clash, each mindful of his own political situation at home.  Obama, of course, doesn’t want to turn off Jewish voters and campaign activists with precisely 56 days until the November 6 election.

The Israelis had been hoping for a face-to-face meeting, with some predicting it would be “fateful.”  Netanyahu wanted to hear, with great specificity, what the United States is willing to do to guarantee that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.  In the Israeli analysis, the Jewish state’s air force and missile arsenal — although capable of producing a lot of damage right now — will become less and less effective, as the weeks go by and Iran accomplishes more enrichment of uranium while moving a vast part of the project underground.

Netanyahu’s new demand is for “red lines” to be set by “the international community,” so that Iran’s leaders can know precisely what is unacceptable.  American officials are saying that there’s no point in setting precise “red lines,” because if Iran fails to act — or steps across the line — the United States and other nations could be drawn into a war, and not at a time of their own choosing.

Here is Netanyahu’s sentence that will grab a lot of attention in Washington:  “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

American officials are constantly trying to figure out if Netanyahu is bluffing.

For some reason trying to signal that Israel’s patience is running out, and that he sees no reason to hold off on bombing Iranian nuclear sites, Netanyahu also said — to reporters in Jerusalem covering a visit by European dignitaries:

“Diplomacy and sanctions haven’t worked.  The sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy, but they haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program. That’s a fact.

“The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs.”

Many Israeli military and intelligence officials are saying privately — and some of them even publicly — that a reason to wait is to ensure that the United States is on Israel’s side.  They explain that if the U.S. joins in an attack on Iran, or handles the matter itself, then Iran’s nuclear project really will be decimated.

Several have also added, however: “Do not underestimate Israeli capabilities.”

September 12, 2012

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