Diplomat: Israel can rely on the US, full stop

Deputy head of mission in Washington says sanctions on Iran, paired with a credible threat, could work.

AIPAC_521 (photo credit: JASON EED / REUTERS)
(photo credit: JASON EED / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – One of Israel’s top diplomats in Washington took a conciliatory tone on US policy toward Iran days before high-level talks here between the two countries.
“Israel can rely on the US, full stop,” the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Barukh Binah said during an American Jewish Committee reception in his honor, when asked whether the US can be trusted to act forcefully against Iran.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference on Monday and will meet with US President Barack Obama earlier in the day. The meeting is expected to focus on Iran and differences between the two countries over how best to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.
With Israel seeing its window of opportunity for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites closing sooner than the US, one anticipated area of discussion is how Israel can be assured that the US would take all necessary steps, including military strikes, if Israel held off from attacking, as the administration would like it to do for now.
Binah added, “Israel trusts the US and believes in the special relationship, but Israel also trusts our own capabilities, our own qualitative military edge and our own resolve.”
He also said that sanctions, the course to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions the United States prefers for the time being, could prove effective.
“Iran is not a crazy country,” he said. “The pressure might work, could work and I believe will work if it is accompanied by a credible threat.”
Israel would like to see that threat more clearly established, after top US military and intelligence leaders warned publicly in recent weeks about the dangers of an Israeli strike.
Obama seemed to take a step in that direction in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic published Friday.
Obama made a rare comment clarifying that the catch phrase “all options are on the table” explicitly includes “a military component.”
He also said, “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff.”
He continued, “Both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
Still, he laid out some of the negatives of a strike, saying, “At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, [Syria], is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?” And he emphasized that the US approach is to seek a final resolution to the issue. “The only way historically that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table,” he argued. “That’s what happened in Libya, that’s what happened in South Africa.”
At the same time, when asked whether Israel could damage itself in America with a preemptive strike, Obama said, “I think we in the United States instinctively sympathize with Israel, and I think political support for Israel is bipartisan and powerful.”
He stressed the strong support he’s lent Israel military and intelligence operations among other demonstrations of the importance of the relationship between the two countries.
“Every single commitment I have made to the State of Israel and its security, I have kept,” he said. “Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?” Obama acknowledged, though, that he and Netanyahu haven’t always seen eye to eye, something he attributed largely to their coming from different sides of the political spectrum.
“The prime minister and I come out of different political traditions. This is one of the few times in the history of US-Israeli relations where you have a government from the Right in Israel at the same time you have a center-left government in the United States,” he said.
But he added, “We can be very frank with each other, very blunt with each other, very honest with each other. For the most part, when we have differences, they are tactical and not strategic.”
Obama will address AIPAC on Sunday, and both men are expected to devote much of their speeches to Iran. President Shimon Peres, leaders of Congress and three Republican candidates for president – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich – will also be speaking at the conference, which is expected to draw more than 13,000 participants.
It is also expected to draw protesters, including many who are connected to the Occupy movement. Organizers of a group called Occupy AIPAC said they anticipate several hundred demonstrators will show up to protest what they claim is Israel’s race to war with Iran and continuing oppression of the Palestinians.