Israeli foreign minister: ‘Obama definitely doesn’t need our advice’

Here’s a mangled piece of reporting from Josef Federman at the Associated Press. First the snippet, then the corrections:

Israel’s foreign minister said Sunday that American pressure will not affect Israeli thinking on how to cope with the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

Avigdor Lieberman delivered his assessment on the eve of a key meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama at the White House.

Both countries believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but divisions have emerged on how to confront the threat. Israel has sent a series of signals recently that military action may be needed to stop the Iranians. The U.S., while not ruling out the threat of force, has said that tough new Western economic sanctions imposed on Iran must be given time to work. Iran claims its program is for peaceful purposes.

In comments aimed at Israel, Obama said in a magazine interview last week that he is not bluffing about attacking Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon. But he also cautioned Israel that a premature attack on Iran would do more harm than good.

Asked about the president’s comments, Lieberman told Israel Radio said that Israel doesn’t “dictate anything” to the U.S.

“It is definitely important to discuss the issue in the appropriate forums and make decisions quietly and responsibly. All this chatter does not help anybody,” he said.

Asked what Netanyahu should tell Obama to ensure that Israel is not left by itself to deal with the Iranian threat, Lieberman said the sides would exchange opinions but ultimately Israel would act in its own interests.

“President Obama definitely doesn’t need our advice,” he said. “We are an independent sovereign state, and at the end of the day, the state of Israel will make the most correct decisions as we understand them.”

The report then goes on to cite a recent poll which indicates that the overwhelming majority of Israelis oppose a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran.

The actual quotes from Lieberman indicate that he doesn’t believe the U.S. needs directions from Israel — at least he wants to pay lip service to the idea that Israel has no right to try and determine U.S. foreign policy. He doesn’t talk about needing to resist American pressure.

But the most glaring factual error in this report comes here: “Both countries [the US and Israel] believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons…”

How many U.S. intelligence reports need to be produced before journalists register that irrespective of what hyperventilating Israeli and American politicians and pundits might claim, neither the U.S. nor Israel have clear evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons?

The New York Times, February 24, 2012:

Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

At the center of the debate is the murky question of the ultimate ambitions of the leaders in Tehran. There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.

Likewise, in an interview with Israeli Army Radio this January, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel agrees with the US: Iran is not building nuclear weapons.

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2 thoughts on “Israeli foreign minister: ‘Obama definitely doesn’t need our advice’

  1. rosemerry

    Has anybody read the latest speech by Ayatyollah Khamenei, who reiterates that Iran will not make or use a nuke or attack anyone first ie will only retaliate in self defence if needed? (Juan Cole has a great post on this today.)

    He is the supreme leader, he makes the decisions. Why assume he lies? he always expresses this moral stance. Take notice, report his words, stop the threats and aggression.

  2. delia ruhe

    It looks as if Federman is as confused as most people, who haven’t got the leisure to sift through all the double/triple/multiple messages we’ve been hearing and reading for the last couple of weeks. Avigdor Lieberman’s putting his oar into it doesn’t clarify matters either. Everyone appears to be speaking in wishes rather than facts.

    Obama’s stating of his “red line” is not a promise that Bibi won’t go to war tomorrow, if he’s determined to drag Obama unwillingly into war after him, but given the pieces by Daniel Levy (FP), Tony Karon (TIME), and Shimon Perez (Ha’aretz), it’s my guess that Bibi won’t risk it.

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