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.