After his first round of meetings with President Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed that “Israel must have the ability always to defend itself, by itself,” and must remain the “master of its fate.” Continuing, the Israeli prime minister noted: “When it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right, to make its own decisions” — a clear indication that Netanyahu was saying it is up to Israel, not any American president, to decide when Iran has crossed the “red line” after which no option other than force will remove an Iranian nuclear threat.
As journalist Eli Lake pointed out today, the two sides oppose each other and it is rather difficult to see how they will come to any serious mutual agreement. Lake writes that Obama’s goal “will be to assure the Israel prime minister that the United States will use force to delay Iran’s nuclear program if the current round of sanctions don’t work,” while “all the while, Netanyahu’s objective will be to avoid having to make a direct commitment to the president not to order his jets to bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”
The issue is what the trigger is after which Israel’s leaders believe they have no option available except that of striking Iran. The Obama administration seems to believe that it will occur when Iran already has a weapon, while Israel’s leaders seem to indicate the red line will be way before when Iran already has all the components ready to put together. As Lake puts it: “The Israelis seek to destroy Iran’s ability to manufacture an atomic weapon, whereas President Obama has pledged only to stop Iran from making a weapon.”
To Israel, the time to act is now; to the current American president, it seems the time to act has not yet arrived. How, one wonders, can these two very different assessments be made compatible?
In this context, the speech to AIPAC this morning by Executive Director Howard Kohr assumes great importance. A well-known Democrat with ties to the White House, Kohr — while trying to put the best face on the president’s speech the previous day — presented a tough message to the executive branch.
On the vital issue singled out by Lake, Kohr had this to say:
It is not necessary for Iran to actually have the bomb to demonstrate beyond doubt that they have crossed the nuclear threshold. Iran with simply the capacity to quickly produce a weapon is a risk to peace, and a threat to the world. Iran, as a threshold nuclear state will strengthen our foes and frighten our friends. … That is why all U.S. officials must speak with one voice so Tehran clearly hears that America is unified in its determination to prevent a nuclear capable Iran.
Kohr, bluntly speaking, said to the president that Israel’s understanding of the threat from Iran — not his own — was right. For a left-leaning, pro-Obama Democrat, these are the toughest of words.
Indeed, he reiterated that while time for diplomacy might still exist, “that time is running out, quick.”
Moreover, he also slyly referenced Obama’s objections to “loose war talk,” by noting:
When American soldiers entered Iraq in 2003 and Tehran feared it would be next, Iran stopped work on developing a nuclear weapon. But when the mullah’s fear diminished, Iran’s nuclear scientists returned to business as usual and have been at it ever since. The reality today is that the Iranian regime is not frightened enough. We must increase the pressures on the mullahs to the point where they fear failure to comply will lead to their downfall.
Tonight AIPAC attendees will hear the long-awaited comments of Netanyahu, which will be made only a few hours after their last meeting of the day. It should indeed prove to be most interesting.