President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting in Washington, D.C. on Monday March 5th. This meeting is likely to be their most critical one to date. The Iranian nuclear problem, and the need for a definitive response, are expected to dominate their discussions. Israel believes that time is quickly running out for non-military means such as economic sanctions to stop Iran from being able to build a nuclear bomb at will. The Obama administration is saying “not so fast” and to give sanctions more of a chance to work.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to publicly express a hard line against Iran during the meeting, according to a senior Israeli official quoted by Haaretz. Netanyahu will reportedly press for American support for firm action beyond the vague declaration that all options remain on the table. He wants Obama to state unequivocally that the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain “red lines,” according to this Israeli official. Obama is unlikely to go anywhere close to making such a public declaration or to openly back Israel if it decides to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The United States and Israel do agree on two basic points. They agree that Iran is intent on achieving a nuclear arms capability and is moving full-steam ahead with its nuclear program. They also agree that there will come a point when it will probably be too late to stop Iran from achieving its objective.
Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have confirmed that there is a sound basis for these concerns in their latest report. They concluded that Iran is pushing ahead with its nuclear program while stonewalling the agency’s efforts to investigate allegations that Iran’s scientists had conducted extensive research on how to build a nuclear warhead. When IAEA inspectors visited Iran recently, Iranian officials refused to allow them to visit a key research facility where some of the alleged experiments were said to have occurred.
However, while sharing concerns about Iran’s advancement towards becoming a nuclear power, the United States and Israel disagree on the urgency of the problem and the timing of any military action to counter it. They differ on the precise point when it will become too late to stop Iran from producing a nuclear bomb and whether Iran can be successfully contained even if it is not stopped in time. “We believe that there is time and space to allow for a diplomatic resolution,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said last month.
No meeting will paper over these differences as long as Obama, who has yet to visit Israel as president while managing to find time to visit Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, fails to fully appreciate the threat that Israel is confronting. He fails to understand Israel’s acute sense of vulnerability against hostile forces determined to destroy the Jewish state by any means possible and Israel’s fierce determination to protect itself at any cost. Nor does he seem to understand that the direct threat a nuclear armed Iran would pose to Israel today will become a direct threat to the United States in the not too distant future if the jihadist megalomaniacs now ruling Iran or their like-minded successors remain in charge.
In short, Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat. No wonder, considering the Iranian leaders’ repeated calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state, Iran’s proximity to Israel, and the ease with which Iran’s surrogates in the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist organizations can be used to help carry out its plans for Israel’s destruction.
On the other hand, while the Obama administration views a nuclear-armed Iran as a very serious threat to regional peace and security, it does not view a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to the United States itself or to the free world generally. It believes that even a successful military strike would only delay Iran’s nuclear program for a few years and would almost certainly set off a firestorm of violence in the Middle East and elsewhere with dangerously unpredictable consequences for America’s strategic interests. That is why President Obama and his top officials have been urging Israel not to take precipitous unilateral military action.
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