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AIPAC's Chief Executive Gets Tough with Obama

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.