WASHINGTON – Israel does not want to limit its options in dealing with Iran and
will seek broad understandings with the United States about possible courses of
action rather than specific assurances in upcoming White House talks, Israeli
and American sources said on Thursday.
“The more explicit commitments you
seek from one side, the more you’re going to be asked to make commitments of
your own,” said Dennis Ross, until recently the top White House adviser on Iran,
warning of demands the US would make of Israel should it go down that
“The notion of great specificity on either end is something that is
overstated,” he said.
Ross also said all the Israeli prime ministers he
had known during his 30-year career “want Israel in the end to take the steps it
needs to take to deal with its national security as it defines it.”
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who left on Thursday for a North American trip that
will include an Oval Office visit on Monday, is no exception. He has made it
clear to interlocutors that Israel maintaining maximum freedom of action will be
a key message in his talks with US President Barack Obama.
He is also
understood to be looking for concrete signs that when the Obama administration
says all options are on the table to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear
weapons, there are actions from the US to give that statement
The Americans’ swift response to Iranian threats to close
the Strait of Hormuz, including the repositioning of US Navy vessels, was one
such sign, and actions that are disruptive of the Iranian nuclear program,
including sabotage efforts, would also be welcome.
however, that the US would want to be told ahead of time of any military action
Israel took and that taking that decision too soon would be a
“We do have lots of assets in the area, and I think every
administration that I’ve been a part of would want to know what they can know as
soon as they can know it,” said Ross, who has worked under Republicans and
Democrats, though he now serves in a private capacity as counselor at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Also on Thursday, former IDF
intelligence chief Amos Yadlin wrote in a New York Times op-ed that the US must
assure Israel that if Jerusalem delayed military moves against Iran’s nuclear
program, Washington would use its own might to stop Tehran from weaponizing its
nuclear program. Obama must “shift the Israeli defense establishment’s thinking
from a focus on the ‘zone of immunity’ to a ‘zone of trust,’” Yadlin
Last month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak alluded to Israel’s “red
line,” describing it as the point when Iran acquires a “zone of immunity” from an effective Israeli attack.
that if a strike on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities took place after
crippling sanctions and diplomacy had failed, there could be enough
international support for such action that the global effort to keep sanctions
and isolation in place could hold, which would constrain Iran’s efforts to
rebuild its program.
He predicted that timelines for how long to give
sanctions to work and what would constitute substantial achievement in diplomacy
would be a major focus of Netanyahu’s discussions with Obama.
that negotiations with Tehran were almost certain to go ahead, and that recent
declarations by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that nuclear weapons were a “great
sin” could be a sign that he was trying to prepare the Iranian public and save
face if a deal were reached.
But Ross also hardened the rhetoric over why
acceptance of Iranian nuclear weapons was not an option.
“You’re going to
have a nuclear-armed Middle East,” he said of a presumed regional arms race.
“And if you’re going to have a nuclear-armed Middle East, the prospect of there
being a nuclear war would be quite high.”
Netanyahu is also expected to
warn about the consequences of a nuclear Iran in his address to the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee policy meeting in Washington next week, which
was the genesis of his visit this time.
The prime minister, who left just
after midnight on Thursday, will first stop in Ottawa to consult with Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In a sign of the close friendship between
the two countries, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who was in Israel last
month, is scheduled to greet Netanyahu at the airport when his plane arrives at
Netanyahu, who will stay at the official guest residence, is
scheduled to meet with Harper privately a few hours later, and then hold a joint
press conference. On Sunday morning, he is scheduled to meet with Canadian
Jewish leaders and opposition leader Bob Rae of the Liberal
Netanyahu is due to arrive in Washington on Sunday afternoon,
after both Obama and President Shimon Peres have addressed AIPAC, and he will
stay at Blair House.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama will be the ninth
between the two leaders, and for now a joint statement is scheduled after the
meeting, but not a press conference.
The prime minister’s AIPAC address
and those of the other speakers – who will include via video stream Republican
presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum on Tuesday,
the last day of the conference – are expected to focus on Iran.
Islamic Republic will be a key part of the lobbying activity undertaken by the
13,000-plus expected conference- goers, as they visit with their members of
Congress to push for more sanctions and support for an aggressive posture on
stopping a nuclear weapon.
An Israel Project poll released ahead of the
conference found that 82 percent of the American public supports increased
sanctions, with only 16% opposing them. However, only 32%, versus 67%, thought
diplomacy and sanctions would halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.