At the end of the day, the disagreement between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran is largely about a timetable. Neither leader wants to see a nuclear-armed Iran, but the American president has more time to confront the threat than Israel’s leader – and not just because Jerusalem time is seven hours ahead of Washington’s.
However, the differences of opinion between Obama and Netanyahu also have to do with their outlooks: Obama truly believes he has a window of opportunity in which to impose tougher sanctions and compel the Iranian regime to change its ways without firing one shot. Netanyahu sees things a bit differently and speculates that Iran will use that time to forge ahead with its nuclear program.
In the past, Washington has made some mistaken assessments about the Iranian nuclear issue, and even about North Korea’s nuclear program. Sometimes American watches are off as well. Netanyahu explained on Monday that Israel has the right to defend itself (i.e., to attack). Obama explained that the U.S. (as a world power) has the right to warn against the grave repercussions of such an attack. Each of them held steadfastly to his own position. The “Iranian summit” changed almost nothing, except that Tehran now understands the U.S. won’t allow the use of force against its nuclear project in the coming year – unless we’re talking about leftover firecrackers from the Purim holiday.
The previous, charged meetings between Netanyahu and Obama made it necessary to work toward presenting a unified front this time around. The two made public announcements even before meeting privately. Yet even when they played nice, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel has the right to self-defense. Obama stressed that the time had not yet come for a military solution. Following their meeting Monday, The New York Times rushed to publish a report about the “somber and businesslike” atmosphere at the meeting between the two in the Oval Office. Their body language certainly radiated tension. After all, it was clear to everyone that this is a critical time – both in Israel and the U.S.
There may be some officials in the Obama administration who view Iran’s ayatollahs as a “rational” regime. That same regime’s rationality has led it to a constant war of survival using terror and violence. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, is convinced that an atomic bomb is his country’s insurance policy against the West – especially after the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. How ironic then that those same wars are precisely the reason Obama doesn’t intend to risk entering another conflagration, and certainly not in an election year.
Obama had hoped to see a different world in his fourth year at the White House. He had expected the world to be safer and more stable – and more democratic. In the meantime, the dialogue between the world powers and the Iranians appear to have failed both in Switzerland and Turkey. Relations with the Kremlin are tense and the Arab Spring has long since turned frosty. Not to mention that the U.S.’s financial dependence on China prevents it from imposing its will on China when it comes to international matters such as Syria.
Obama undoubtedly has grown less naive in his time at the White House, but he still believes in the Iranians. It’s unfortunate that instead of choosing to believe in the Iranian people, as he should have when they courageously took to the streets in protest in 2009, that he chooses to believe the regime.
No one is spoiling for a fight, and it seems that Israel has yet to decide whether to launch a strike. Yet everyday that Iran continues with its nuclear program increases the likelihood of such an attack.
Netanyahu and Obama’s body language during their meeting revealed exactly what we had expected. As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Obama passed his test with Peres, but failed with Netanyahu.
Inspired by the Purim holiday, Netanyahu gave Obama a gift, the Book of Esther, and he also apparently explained to him that there is another Haman living in modern-day Persia who is out to destroy the Jews. Despite this, the two leaders parted ways without synchronizing their watches.
Up until the meeting Monday, it was clear the U.S. does not want to launch an attack. Now it appears that Israel has also not made a final decision. Is it possible that the meeting’s big winner was none other than Khamenei? Washington got itself more time. Now let’s just hope Iran doesn’t get the bomb.