Netanyahu defends his call on US to take clear stance on Iran strike
ISRAELI PRIME minister Binyamin Netanyahu has defended his call for the United States to set red lines on Iran’s nuclear programme, despite domestic criticism that his policy has soured bilateral relations with Israel’s closest ally.
It has been a bad week for Mr Netanyahu. Not only did President Barack Obama refuse to publicly declare when the US would be prepared to use military force against Tehran, but the White House also made it clear Mr Obama will not have time to schedule a meeting with Mr Netanyahu when the Israeli leader visits New York later this month.
The Israeli media was full of headlines over the “crisis” in relations with Washington, and the fact Mr Netanyahu had clearly emerged as the loser in the “poker game” with Mr Obama. To add insult to injury, key ministers criticised the fact the dispute had been conducted publicly instead of via discreet diplomatic channels.
Deputy prime minister Dan Meridor indicated it was a mistake to try to exert pressure on Washington. “I don’t want to set red lines or deadlines for myself,” he told Israel’s Army radio.
Despite the criticism, Mr Netanyahu said it was right for Israel to keep up the pressure, and he denied accusations he was attempting to interfere in the US election. “That’s nonsense, because what’s guiding me is not the election in the United States but the centrifuges in Iran,” he told Israel’s most widely read newspaper, Yisrael Hayom. “If the Iranians had stopped enriching material and preparing a bomb until the US election was over, I would have been able to wait,” he added.
It is no secret Mr Netanyahu is closer ideologically to the Republican Party than the Democrats, and the Obama administration suspects him of trying to influence the Jewish vote ahead of the election.
Mr Netanyahu is an old friend of Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The two worked briefly together as corporate advisers in the 1970s at the Boston Consulting Group.
The trip to Israel by Mr Romney at the end of July, which included a fundraising event, increased Democratic suspicions. He accused Mr Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus”. US Jewish businessman Sheldon Adelson, one of the main donors to the Romney campaign, owns Yisrael Hayom, which is distributed free of charge and is the country’s most pro-Netanyahu media outlet.
California Democratic senator Barbara Boxer, a staunch Israel supporter, wrote a critical letter to Mr Netanyahu. “It appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time, Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he wrote. However, Mr Netanyahu insisted that only Israeli threats to strike Iran had led to stepped-up international sanctions, and what was needed now was a credible military option. “What if the United States doesn’t take action? That’s the question that must be asked,” he said.