The meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday was a good one. Based on the declarations made by the two leaders, it seems clear they both prefer to be coordinated on the Iranian issue.
Obama prefers the emphasis to be on the diplomatic avenue, while Netanyahu wants the emphasis to be on sanctions and a military threat. However, the bottom line is that following the week-long American-Persian romance, officials in Washington, after one meeting with Netanyahu, returned to speaking almost the same language and have put the military option back on the table. At the same time, a reminder may have been made that the Israeli-American relationship is not just a summer fling, but a marriage based on many obligations and baggage.
Obama and Netanyahu chose to highlight the things on which they agree: They both do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, they are not satisfied with words, and they want to see action taken by Iran. The meeting was a synchronization of positions between partners. It is not even clear who felt it was more important to get on the same page. Ultimately both sides coordinated their intentions, while Iran is still caught in the cross-hairs.
Yet there is one thing that Jerusalem and Washington do not agree on: the matter of sanctions. The Americans, who chose negotiations with the Iranians, believe that an easing of sanctions, only after inspection and verification that the Iranians have indeed met their obligations, could serve as an incentive for the continued success of talks. Israel believes that without even tougher sanctions, the already slim chance for negotiations to succeed becomes nonexistent.
Obama is a president with a focus on domestic issues. His body language in front of the cameras projected, on the one hand, an affinity with Netanyahu (he didn't spare any pats on the back), but also wariness over the Iranian issue. This is also akin to the Syrian issue, when suddenly during a cabinet meeting in Washington, after endless speculation and debates in the media and in Congress about whether a military strike in Syria was prudent, the president came out and said there were more pressing issues at hand.
It can be assumed that Obama and Netanyahu on Monday did not share the same concerns. Netanyahu, of course, is primarily worried about Iran's spinning centrifuges. Obama, meanwhile, was much more bothered by the Republican threat to shut down the government.
For Obama the mission is much more complex. He needs to zigzag between reality and dream, between what is actually attainable and what is not, between ideology and practicality. When it comes to Netanyahu, his line drawing the Iranian threat as a global problem is exceedingly clear and simple.
During his current trip to the U.S., however, Netanyahu must also explain that aside from the Iranian threat being a global problem, the Iranians still have an Israeli problem. And perhaps it is because of this that we cannot -- despite all the best wishes -- participate in the Persian party.
Ultimately, it appears that the gestures Netanyahu made for Obama on the Palestinian and Syrian fronts were greatly appreciated by the American president. Obama loves to make a connection between the Iranian and Palestinian issues, but it seems he has more faith in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas than in Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. He knows that without Netanyahu there is no chance for successful negotiations with the Palestinians. This is also the reason that both leaders, who do not share the same ideology, have learned to work together and have understood that the success of one, on various issues, is largely dependent on the other.
Netanyahu came to the meeting with Obama like a doctor coming to check his patient's eyes. He wanted to make sure that when Obama spoke with Rouhani, the U.S. president's eyes were not "wide shut." Obama told Netanyahu he would enter negotiations with eyes wide open.
Either way, even keeping their "eyes wide shut" is too bold for the Iranians. The Revolutionary Guard is struggling to even accept a simple telephone conversation from the U.S.
Netanyahu's speech on Tuesday will close the U.N. General Assembly, but we are still far from the nuclear story's epilogue. The bomb is closer than ever. The prime minister appears satisfied -- probably because he understands that the Americans also know this.