WASHINGTON – At the start of a crucial White House meeting Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel reserved the right to defend itself from Iran.“Israel must have the ability, always, to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu said sitting alongside US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office before their private consultations. “Israel has the right, the sovereign right, to make its own decisions.”Leading into a meeting expected to focus overwhelmingly on Iran, the Obama administration had sent repeated signals that it did not want to see Israel take military action at this point.Netanyahu, however, said that Israel’s raison d'être was to restore to the Jewish people control over their destiny and that he as prime minister would “ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.”At the same time, he joined the countries together in the eyes of Iran, implying that the US and Israel shared the same threats and interests when it comes to preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.Referencing the Iranian rhetoric calling the US the “Big Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan,” Netanyahu said that, “For them, we are you and you are us.”
And he added the Iranians were correct in that linkage: “Israel and America stand together.”
Obama also underscored the strong bond between the countries in his comments during their nine-minute press appearance ahead of their meeting, in which no questions were allowed.
“Our commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid,” Obama said, echoing his remarks from his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Sunday night. “The United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security.”
He also repeated that his policy was not containment but preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and that “when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.”
But he also said that diplomacy was still an option, and chose this statement to point to American and Israeli unity.
“Both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically,” Obama said. “We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution.”
Obama offered assurances that the two countries would continue to be in “constant and close consultation” during what he expected would be “a series of difficult months.”
He also noted that the tough climate in the Middle East complicated prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but that it continued to be an important effort.
“It is a very difficult thing to do in light of the context right now, but I know that the prime minister remains committed to trying to achieve that,” he said.
Netanyahu thanked the president for his hospitality at the beginning of his comments, describing the “warm hospitality” shown to him and his staff.
The White House has been accused of not showing proper hospitality to the PM at some of the other eight meetings between the two leaders, but on this occasion Netanyahu is being hosted at the official White House guest house, Blair House.
Netanyahu also praised Obama’s “strong speech” at AIPAC on Sunday. Netanyahu will be speaking to the 13,000-plus conference-goers late Monday evening.