Netanyahu and Obama put on show of unity


PRESIDENT BARACK Obama and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu studiously avoided any sign of public disagreement in their brief public remarks in the Oval Office yesterday, but their differences were nevertheless clear.

“Both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically,” Mr Obama asserted, referring to the necessity of preventing the Islamic Republic of Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The US believes “that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution”, he said.

Grave-faced and looking into Mr Obama’s eyes, the Israeli leader did not mention diplomacy, but made two points: that the US and Israel are in this together, and that Israel will go it alone if need be.

“For them, you’re the Great Satan, we’re the Little Satan,” Mr Netanyahu said, referring to Iran. “For them, we are you and you’re us. And you know something, Mr President – at least on this last point, I think they’re right. We are you, and you are us. We’re together.”

Mr Netanyahu noted that Mr Obama had told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in his address to them on Sunday “that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right, to make its own decisions”.

His conclusion, “that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself” sounded like a foreboding of the “series of difficult months” that Mr Obama predicted for this year.

There were three reasons why “it is profoundly in the US’s interest as well to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”. Mr Obama said that if Iran became a nuclear power, it would precipitate an arms race throughout the Middle East; an Iranian nuclear weapon might “fall into the hands of terrorists” and such weapons might embolden Iran into believing “that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity”.

Sitting beside Mr Netanyahu in the Oval Office, Mr Obama did not repeat his earlier criticism of “loose talk of war” that drives up the price of oil, thus helping Iran to fund its nuclear programme.

US Republicans have criticised the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Martin Dempsey, for saying: “We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor.”

In briefings, the Obama administration argues that a pre-emptive strike by Israel could spark terrorist attacks within the US, threaten the US and global economic recovery and endanger US troops in Afghanistan.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak has warned that by burying its installations deep inside granite mountains, Iran may soon enter a “zone of immunity which may render any physical strike as impractical”.

The US hopes that imminent sanctions that will remove Iran from the Swift international banking transfer system and outlaw dealings with the Iranian Central Bank, together with a European boycott of Iranian oil, and this could persuade Tehran to change course.

Mr Netanyahu was to deliver his own address to the public affairs committee last night after meeting defence secretary Leon Panetta. The US and Israeli militaries co-operate closely and the two men were expected to discuss military options for a strike against Iran.

The US may argue that a later US strike would be more effective than a precipitous Israeli strike.

The US could use 30,000lb massive ordnance penetrator bombs – known as MOP – which it developed for use in Iraq in the 1990s.

“The US has the capacity to unleash wave after wave of MOPs – possibly enough to render a site useless even if it’s not totally destroyed,” Richard Sisk reported on the Politico website.

The US declined an Israeli request for MOPs in 2008. Israel would instead use Guided Bomb Unit-28 “bunker busters” which the US transferred to Israel in 2005, according to Politico. The GBU-28 are 5,000lb tubes, 25 feet long and 14 inches in circumference, that can be fired from the F15 Eagle strike fighter.

The perception that the US is attempting to restrain Israel “reinforces conviction that sooner or later they will have to take matters into their own hands”, Martin Indyk, a former employee of AIPAC, former US ambassador to Israel and now vice president of the Brookings Institution, wrote in the New York Times.

In their last Oval Office encounter in May, Mr Netanyahu rejected a proposal by Mr Obama to revive peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu said Israel would not pursue “peace-based illusions”. – ( Additional reporting: New York Times)