Netanyahu-Obama talks to focus on Iran

Neither Obama or Netanyahu can afford to let the Iranians go on with their nuclear program.

PM Netanyahu with US President Obama at White House 311 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO)
PM Netanyahu with US President Obama at White House 311
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s impending talks in Washington with President Barack Obama could determine whether these two leaders can mobilize an effective bilateral or international effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
This is an existential issue for Israel. The Jewish state has been threatened with annihilation by the Islamic Republic of Iran, not only by its arrogant and fanatical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also by its supreme political and religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
They have threatened publicly to wipe Israel off the map. This is tantamount to a call for a second Holocaust. The fact that Ahmadinejad denies that the Nazis committed genocide against the Jews of Europe by killing six million of them between 1933 and 1945 makes his hateful rhetoric all the more dangerous.
Netanyahu wants the free world, led by the US, to intensify its policy of deterrence by imposing tougher economic sanctions, exerting more severe diplomatic pressure or launching military operations designed to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Only two countries – the US and Israel – actually have the tactical capability to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to former defense minister Moshe Arens.
He is certain that Israeli warplanes can fulfill this mission singlehandedly if necessary.
Weighing his words very carefully and refusing to elaborate on the short- and longterm consequences, Arens says only that Israeli air strikes would have a “significant” effect.
One of the problems inherent in any analysis of this situation is that the relevant intelligence accumulated by the CIA and the Mossad cannot be shared with the mass media.
This means that this material is immune to objective analysis or judgment. It is conceivable that Netanyahu will present to President Obama the latest findings and assessments of his agents (the Mossad is subject directly and exclusively to the prime minister).
Israel’s presumed ability to obtain valuable information about contemporary Iran through its own means is an important factor in its role as an important and influential ally of the US. The possibility that Teheran’s totalitarian regime might subject Israel to a nuclear attack cannot be ruled out.
Tehran would not be deterred by the likelihood that the casualty toll would be horrendous and that it probably would include thousands of non-Jewish victims. This assumption is not only based on the fact that 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab, but also because more than 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank would be within the field of fire. Iranian missiles armed with nuclear warheads could fall short of their main target and strike in the Palestinian areas that are adjacent to Israel.
Suprisingly, there has been no international outcry against the notion that the Holy Land might be subjected to a nuclear onslaught. This implies indifference on Iran’s part to the possibility that Islamic shrines, including those on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (referred to by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary), might be damaged or destroyed.
The horrific consequences of an Iranian missile strike are unlikely to deter the likes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, however.
For the past two decades or more, Muslim extremists have engaged in countless acts of violence in which their fellow-believers were targeted and killed. These victims have included pilgrims who converged on Islamic shrines in Iraq, Pakistan and other countries.
Timing is likely to be high up on the Obama-Netanyahu discussion’s agenda.
Obama may oppose any kind of military operation before the presidential election in November because it may cost him votes if the results are unsatisfactory or unimpressive.
His thinking may be influenced in part by the principle that one always knows when and how a bilateral conflict began, but one never knows when and how it will come to an end.
During the run-up to Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, there have been numerous, frequent and unusually intensive discussions between American and Israeli officials in Washington and Jerusalem. The contents, however, were not made public for obvious reasons.
The American approach probably is influenced by a traditional reluctance to team up with the Israelis at the operational level.
This derives from the US effort to preserve the image of an “honest broker” who enjoys good relations with most of the Arab states as well as with Israel. That is the way it was 20 years ago at the outbreak of the first Iraq war, when the Israelis were politely asked to keep their warplanes on the ground despite their understandable desire to punish the Iraqis for their pre-war missile attacks.
Obama’s advisers on Middle Eastern affairs probably have warned him that open collusion between the US and Israel against Iran might embarrass the Saudi monarchy, which regards Tehran’s Shi’ite extremists as a danger to its survival, but cannot risk being perceived as being on the same side as the Israelis.
All of these considerations must be taken into account by Obama and Netanyahu.
The bottom line, however, is that neither can afford to let the Iranians go on with their nuclear program which is being conducted in defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s findings and conclusions.
The fact that a team of IAEA inspectors was denied access to one of their nuclear facilities on their last visit is enough to make the president and prime minister buckle down and work out a realistic plan to bring the nightmare of a nuclear Iran to an end as soon as possible.
The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent.