Obama to Netanyahu: Be Patient
Mark Landler reported from Washington that on the eve of what could be a fateful meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu this Monday, Obama announced he is not going to “bluff” and “go around advertising exactly what our intentions are,” in an interview with the Atlantic relayed to the N.Y. Times.
According to Landler’s dispatch of the interview, Obama appeared to be warning Netanyahu that the United States deeply frowns upon its gendarme in the Mideast taking serious unilateral action, “making the case that Israel should not take matters into its own hands” by arguing that any airstrike would only delay, not cripple, Iran’s capacity to develop a nuclear weapons program — although, as US-Israeli intelligence figures have stated on the public record, it is not substantiated that Iran has made the decision to develop The Bomb.
What’s more, critics and skeptics of military action against Tehran, at least for now, do not think all other options have been exhausted, and believe the Iranians are feeling the pain of international economic sanctions.
Facing the constraints of an election year, President Obama has to choose his words carefully: publicly oppose pre-emptive Israeli military action and risk a backlash, or disavow any threat of force to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue and be seen as weak by the foreign policy set.
“They recognize that they are in a bad, bad place right now,” Obama said in the Atlantic interview, adding, “It is possible for them to make a strategic calculation that, at minimum, pushes much further to the right whatever potential breakout capacity they may have, and that may turn out to be the best decision for Israel’s security.” By breakout, he refers to the threshold at which the country’s uranium enrichment passes from the economic realm to what IAEA inspectors, who have not had luck doing any real inspecting, would call the “military dimension.”
In accordance with the long-standing public posture, the State Department has maintained that all options “are on the table,” which may enforce Iran’s sense of besiegement and empower its hard-liners. Obama himself alluded to this in the interview, where he stated that, according to Landler’s paraphrase, “an Israeli military strike could deflect attention from other forces in the region that were eroding Iran’s power and influence.” In other words, Washington is sending Tel Aviv a clear message: Please do not mess this up (but if you attack, we’re cool with that).
Or, more hopefully and charitably, Washington is maneuvering across a complex three-dimensional chessboard that involves the risk of a nuclear arms race in a volatile and strategically important region, and it is clearly trying to muzzle its Israeli counterparts who have reason to feel threatened. With Netanyahu on his way, Obama seemed to want to clear the air and close the alleged “daylight.”
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