Red lines, deadlines and end games: Netanyahu turns up Iran heat on Obama

Tony Karon writes: Benjamin Netanyahu‘s frustration with the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue is unlikely to be assuaged any time soon, with the Israeli daily Haaretz alleging on Tuesday that the White House has “declined” the Israeli Prime Minister’s request for a meeting during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York later this month. The White House immediately denied the report, with national security spokesman Tommy Vietor explaining that Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in New York after Obama leaves. “They’re simply not in the city at the same time,” Vietor wrote in an email. “But the President and PM are in frequent contact and the PM will meet with other senior officials, including Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, during his visit.” Vietor later emailed: “Contrary to previous press reports, there was never any request for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President in Washington, nor was this request ever denied.” But Israeli media, encouraged by unnamed Israeli officials, are interpreting the decision as a snub – in a week where Netanyahu has made no secret of his exasperation with the Obama Administration.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday fired a thinly-disguised broadside against the Administration, telling reporters in Jerusalem, “Those in the international community who refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.” That was in response to Washington’s rebuff of the Israeli leader’s demand that the U.S. publicly declare a “red line” for Iran’s nuclear work, that if crossed, would trigger a U.S. military response. The Israelis have also demanded that the U.S. set a deadline for Iran to comply with Western demands. But all of Israel’s key Western allies have delivered stern warnings against a go-it-alone military strike, which is also opposed by Israel’s military and security chiefs, as well as by a majority of its polled public. Unable to bend the Administration into accepting his terms and timeline, then, Netanyahu is reduced to playing Cassandra.

Clinton drew Israeli ire when she set out the Administration’s position on Iran in an interview, on Monday, with Bloomberg TV. “We’re not setting deadlines,” she said. “We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions. We’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good faith negotiation.” But Netanyahu was having none of it, claiming that “as of now, we can clearly say that diplomacy and sanctions have not worked. They have hit the Iranian economy, but they haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear project.”

Netanyahu is certainly correct that the pain of sanctions has not stopped Iran from continuing its nuclear work in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, nor has it prompted Tehran to concede to Western demands at the negotiating table. At the same time, however, the U.S. assessment is that while Iran continues to accumulate nuclear infrastructure that would give it the capability to build a weapon, Tehran has not yet decided to build a bomb. (Many analysts suspect Iran’s current goal is the “nuclear latency” enjoyed by countries such as Japan, which could build nuclear weapons in a matter of months should they deem it strategically necessary to do so.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS on Tuesday that if Iran took the strategic decision, right now, it would need “a little more than a year” to build a bomb. “We think we will have the opportunity, once we know that they’ve made that decision, [to] take the action necessary to stop them,” Panetta said. And it’s at an Iranian move to weaponize nuclear material that the Obama Administration has drawn its own red line. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had reiterated on Monday, “The line is the President is committed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and he will use every tool in the arsenal of American power to achieve that goal.”

The real problem for Netanyahu, is not that Obama hasn’t stated a red line; it’s that Obama’s red line is not the same as Israel’s red line. [Continue reading…]

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