Like teenagers dating, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack
Obama are sending messages to each other through emissaries before their big
Obama chose Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic monthly, and
Netanyahu chose a press conference standing alongside rock-solid ally Stephen
Harper, the prime minister of Canada.
To Goldberg, in an interview that
appeared Friday, Obama talked for the first time explicitly about a “military
component” in the options that are on the proverbial table in dealing with
In recent weeks, Israel made clear it would like to see and hear
more specificity from the US about those options on the table, to ensure that
Iran gets the message.
But at the same time, Obama also warned in his
interview of any preemptive Israeli strike at this time, advising Israel to see
how things play out.
“But as Israel’s closest friend and ally,” Obama
said in that interview, “I do point out to them that we have a sanctions
architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a
world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our
assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a
nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without
us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making
In that context, our argument is going to be that it is
important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to
By permanently, he said, he meant that Iran gives up its
nuclear ambitions, just as South Africa and Libya once gave up their nuclear
In his speech to AIPAC on Sunday, Obama added two points: the
first, that Israel is responsible for its own security, and can make its own
decisions. And second, that all the bellicose comments about war only help the
Iranians, since they hike up oil prices, which assists the Iranians.
weeks Netanyahu has asked his ministers and advisers not to talk about Iran, but
to little avail. Maybe now they will listen to Obama.
The prime minister,
speaking at a press conference on Friday just a few hours after Obama’s
interview with Goldberg was published, seemed to have that interview in mind
after meeting Harper, sending a twin message back to Obama. The first message
was that Israel’s top priority is to end the Iranian crisis
In light of the atmosphere created over the last few weeks,
as if Israel is on the verge of a preemptive attack, Netanyahu seemed to want to
tone down the rhetoric by saying at the outset, “I want to assure all of you
that everyone would like to see a peaceful solution with Iran abandoning its
The second message was that Israel was not opposed to
the West engaging with Iran, as long as three clear terms are met: Iran closes
down the nuclear facility at Qoms, stops all uranium enriching, and removes from
its territory all uranium enriched over 3.5 percent.
Up until this time,
Israel’s position was that there should be no engagement with Iran until it
stopped its nuclear program. First stop, then talk. Netanyahu put some details
on that demand, signaling to Obama just prior to the meeting that Israel is not
discounting a peaceful solution, but that the world must not be
Israel’s concern is not that the Iranians will “hit a home run”
and in one grand move achieve nuclear capability.
Rather, the concern is
that Iran will steal one base at a time, and while the world is busy
negotiating, they will have “rounded the bases” and achieved its
Another significant element of Netanyahu’s comments was that they
were made in Ottawa, not in Washington.
The reason for this is that the
terms Netanyahu laid down have not yet been accepted by Obama. This is now
Netanyahu’s policy, but not necessarily Obama’s, and the prime minister wanted
to get the terms out there before traveling to Washington, to give them time to
percolate, and not to deliver a policy position in the US that might be at odds
with that of the president.