Israeli stance on Iran risks alienating US
WORLD VIEW:Netanyahu’s pressure on Obama has exposed tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme
‘WHO ARE you trying to replace? The administration in Washington or that in Tehran?” Shaul Mofaz, head of Kadima, Israel’s largest opposition party, pointedly asked of Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister.
The latter’s intervention in the US presidential campaign this week to demand assurances on blocking Iran’s nuclear programme, construed by many as deeply partisan, may have been prompted by personal frustration at US stonewalling. Or it may be the result of a calculation that President Obama, mid-election, is particularly vulnerable and amenable to pressure from Israel. No dice, Obama says.
Either way, Netanyahu has done himself and his country no favours by again antagonising Israel’s biggest ally, providing “ammo” for his pal Mitt Romney’s contention that Obama is soft on protecting Israel, and by exposing publicly the divisions in Israel over his strategy.
On Thursday his deputy prime minister responsible for intelligence and atomic affairs, Dan Meridor, distanced himself publicly, opposing the strategy of demanding “red lines” or negotiation deadlines and taking a more nuanced view of a nuclear-armed Iran. Netanyahu has spoken of the danger of a second holocaust, but “I don’t want to speak in apocalyptic . . . holocaust terms,” said Meridor, a veteran of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party. “I think that we are strong and we will overcome the challenges, but this is a serious challenge.”
Defence minister Ehud Barak issued a statement saying problems with the US should be worked out behind closed doors.
At issue is Israel’s concern that Obama’s promise that he will not allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon is too vague to represent real leverage. Netanyahu wants the US to pledge to enforce militarily a “red line” threshold setting a specific limit to Tehran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium linked to a technical assessment of how much it would require to create a bomb.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which on Thursday again rebuked Iran over concealing its activities, it has amassed enough low- and medium-enriched uranium that, with further enrichment, it could fuel as many as six nuclear weapons.
The US, like most of the international community, does not trust Iranian assurances that its programme is entirely peaceful, but does not relish the prospect of carrying out a military strike, and many experts – including top US general Martin Dempsey – doubt whether they could damage the dispersed, well-defended nuclear facilities.
Washington rightly views an Israeli strike in a similar vein – both as dangerously destabilising to the region, and as likely to embroil the US in military action to protect Israel from the inevitable retaliation.
Netanyahu said on Tuesday that “those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel”. But, while there appears to be real support in Israel for pressure on the US for a “red line” or a deadline on the interminable negotiations with Iran, commentators suggest it is associated with strong opposition to an Israeli “go-it-alone”. Voters see deadlines set by the US as a possible way out of the conundrum, a constraint on Netanyahu.