How red is my line

Netanyahu and Clinton

PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton

In a prime example of the media seeing what it wants to see, the CBC website headlined their article about their interview on Sunday with PM Binyamin Netanyahu as follows: “Is Israel softening its stance on Israel?” (h/t cba and to Henry for the Telegraph write-up of the interview).  Of course, the answer is “No”. Israel is definitely not softening its stance. If the editors would only read the very words in their very own article, they would realize that their headline is simply nonsensical wishful thinking. This is what Netanyahu said:

“I think what is important is to realize that Iran will not stop unless it sees… a clear red line.”

The Israeli prime minister wants the United States and other world powers to define a “red line” that will force a new response that will provide guidelines on how to proceed with the Iranian regime. Netanyahu wants to know that there will be a threat of a pre-emptive strike if, for example, the Iranians keep enriching uranium.

“I don’t think they see a clear red line, and I think the sooner we establish one, the greater the chances that there won’t be a need for other types of action,” Netanyahu told CBC News.

You can see a video of the interview at Ynet.

I don’t see any softening of Israel’s stance, simply a confirmation that if the world powers would draw a definite line in the sand, a “red line”, with a credible threat of attack if that line is crossed, it is possible that Iran could be deterred from proceeding with its nuclear weapons development.

The question then arises, are any red lines being considered or imposed? And the answer to this question is, similarly, unfortunately “No” as well, as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said on Sunday:

The US will not set deadlines for Iran and still considers negotiations and sanctions the best way to halt it from developing nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday.

[...]

Asked if the Obama administration will lay out sharper “red lines” for Iran or state explicitly the consequences for Tehran of its failing to negotiate a deal with world powers over its nuclear program by a certain date, Clinton told Bloomberg, “We’re not setting deadlines.”

“We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions than their words,” Clinton said in an interview following visits to China and Russia, where she spoke with leaders of both countries to seek cooperation on Iran.

Clinton said China and Russia share the US’s view that Iran must be stopped from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

I’m sure we’d all be fascinated to know how simply watching Iran is going to stop them from acquiring the Bomb.

The US’s response, together with international pressure on Israel to refrain from attacking Iran’s nuclear program, has infuriated Netanyahu (and rightly so), and he issued a harsh rebuttal to Clinton and to the international community on Tuesday:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said that countries that refused to set deadlines for Iran to give up its nuclear program have no right to tell Israel to hold back on taking preemptive military action to thwart the regime’s nuclear ambitions.

His comments constituted an explicit and bitter rebuttal of comments made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said on Sunday that the US will currently not set deadlines or give ultimatums regarding Tehran’s refusal to curb its nuclear program.

“The world tells Israel to wait because there is still time. And I ask: Wait for what? Until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu said. “If Iran knows that there is no red line or deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it is doing today, i.e., continuing to work unhindered toward achieving a nuclear weapon.

[...]

Speaking in Jerusalem at joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart, Boyko Borisov, Netanyahu differed with the US, too, over the impact of sanctions on Iran.

“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 said. “This is a fact. Another fact is that every day Iran gets closer to a nuclear bomb.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Deputy Knesset Speaker and Likud MK Danny Danon openly attacked Clinton for her refusal to set a deadline for military action to thwart Iran. Her statement “is a slap in the face [for Israel], the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East,” he said. “Instead of [the US] standing steadfastly at our side, the secretary’s comments only serve to embolden the Iranians and likely hasten their weapons program. We expect more from our American friends, who have pledged close cooperation in combating this radical threat to the free world.”

So far it seems that only the Canadians have Israel’s back, and until more of the international community join in, Israel will have to go it alone against Iran.

Meanwhile, compounding the rupture in the US-Israel relationship, the White House has informed Netanyahu’s office that President Obama will not be able to meet him during his upcoming trip later this month:

The White House has informed the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that President Obama will not be able to meet with Netanyahu later this month when the Israeli leader travels to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

According to an Israeli official who spoke with Reuters, Netanyahu’s office reached out to the White House for a meeting between the two leaders, but “the White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president’s schedule will not permit that.”

An additional report from the Jerusalem Post states that Netanyahu offered to travel to Washington D.C. during his trip to the U.S., because President Obama will not be in New York during the prime minister’s time there, but the White House “didn’t think that would be possible” to meet.

This will mark the first time Obama and Netanyahu will not meet during a trip to the U.S. by the Israeli leader, since the president took office.

The White House has denied that it actively rejected Netanyahu’s request for a meeting and claimed it was simply a clash of schedules.

I find that both hard to believe and hard to understand. If you are trying to reassure an ally, and persuade them not to take certain action (attack Iran), then surely if that ally is on your home turf and wants to meet, you would be able to free up a little space in your schedule.

It sounds like Obama does not want to meet Netanyahu.  He’s worried how this will affect his election campaign. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be put on the spot if asked directly about Iran. Or perhaps he’s simply scared of a repeat of last year’s musar drasha (homiletic sermon) given to him by Netanyahu. Either way, he is not demonstrating international leadership.

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11 Responses to How red is my line

  1. peteca1 says:

    The snub of Netanyahu by President Obama is shocking. Really, I found it unbelievable. I hope you publish more feedback from people in Israel – I would like to know how Israelis are seeing it. I think a lot of Americans will be stunned by this development. In addition, we are reeling from the storming of our embassy in Egypt on 9/11.

    I have to say – I can’t recall when political relations between the USA and Israel were this bad. At least, relations between our leaders. Things are very different at the level of ordinary citizens.

    There is no need for me to paint the consequences to you … because you can already see them clearly. Do you remember the advice I gave you on my first post here – a couple of weeks ago? It might be a good thing to make sure you are ready. We need to do the same thing in America. I don’t think the world is going to be the same place.

    Pete

    • cba says:

      “Do you remember the advice I gave you on my first post here – a couple of weeks ago? It might be a good thing to make sure you are ready.”
      And do YOU remember what WE said to YOU?

      Pete, I really do appreciate your support and good wishes, but (please don’t take this the wrong way) I’m getting a little irritated by your apparent assumption that if you didn’t say “Look out! Be careful!” we would be blissfully unaware of what is probably heading our way.

      We know.

      Believe me, we know very well.

      Thanks.

    • anneinpt says:

      Thanks for your support Pete, and I agree that relations between the 2 countries are much better at the civilian level than at the Administration level.

      As for being prepared, as cba says, we know. We know.

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  3. DavidinPT says:

    Surely it is now time for Netanyahu to tell all visiting Anerican lobbyists like Panetta, Clinton et al, that his timetable simply doesn’t allow for meeting with them. I suggest he refers them all to Michael Ben-Ari. Fleas and ears come to mind. And he should make sure that Barak is ties up in endless defense briefings………….

    • anneinpt says:

      Yeah, it’s tempting to imagine Bibi doing that. But he won’t. In any case, he probably wants to keep lines of communication open in case the Americans come to their senses.

      Well, one can hope. And pigs might fly…

      Re your suggestion for Barak, seconded! Very inventive. :-)

  4. Rob Harris says:

    Not sure if this was already noted on your blog but the democratic convention deliberately left recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital out of their party platform, along with a refutation of the so-called Palestinian right of return, and any mention of Hamas. It seems to be a significant watering down of their old previously unchanging policy on Israel, which has also worried Big Al Dershowitz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xAbmid3pOg who is a longtime democrat supporter.

    The bit about Jerusalem was reinstated but what happened is worrying for two reasons. It is thought elements in the Obama administration got the statement weakened so it may have even been a snub considering the way Bibi and company have been treated. Whilst I wouldn’t say the democrat party is very anti-Israel, it is a definite sign of how much they are turning against Israel when considering the largely pro-Israel political climate in the US. This is especially significant considering it is an election year, and the democratic elite must have felt it wouldn’t hurt their electoral success!

    • anneinpt says:

      Hi Rob, I did read about the Jerusalem fiasco at the Dem convention but I didn’t blog about it. Simple lack of time I’m afraid. So thank you for bringing it to my readers’ attention.

      I’m not sure how much I agree with your reading of the Democratic party members’ feelings about Israel. Certainly at the convention, the prevailing sense was one of abandonment of Israel, but whether that is reflected in the delegates’ feelings, or just at the top level – including Obama and State – is hard to say.

      I don’t think the Democratic party per se is anti-Israel in general. In fact some of the most friendly administrations to Israel have been Democratic. And I agree with you that the average Democrat-registered voter is not any more anti-Israel than a Republican. It’s simply the almost-worship of liberalism that is causing many of them to view Israel through a skewed lens. And they’re also following their leader – Obama – almost blindly.

      In the end, that attitude leads to what happened today – the Administration condemning not the violence of the mobs in Cairo and Benghazi, but the gall of the film-maker to create his film, no matter how much in bad taste it was.

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