Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly did not emerge from his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama with everything he wanted. But he knew ahead of time that this would be the case.
As Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin said on Monday night, the U.S. and Israel have a shared understanding of intelligence and a joint goal of preventing Iran from going nuclear, but they differ in their risk assessments. For Israel, the situation is colored by the trauma of the Holocaust, Yadlin told Channel 1's Liat Regev, while the U.S. carries memories of its Middle East wars.
The essence of the difference is that Israel does not need to re-examine Iran's words to know that the ayatollahs still seek its destruction, while the U.S. and Europe are ready to give Iranian President Hasan Rouhani another chance. Despite their divergent outlooks, which may be manifested in future disagreements, Obama and Netanyahu were not only able to avoid a rift, but also formulated a position that included compromises on two issues:
• The siege of economic sanctions on Iran will not be lifted prematurely. The sanctions effort, encouraged by Israel and led by the U.S., and which had to be forced to a certain degree on the rest of the world, is key to increasing the chances that Iran will agree to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. This issue has numerous facets. On negotiations with Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a "bad deal is worse than no deal." There could be a debate in the future about what constitutes a "bad deal." In Israel's view, a "bad deal" would be one in which sanctions were partially lifted in exchange for a minimal reduction of centrifuge activity.
• The military option exists. Obama reiterated this, which allowed Netanyahu to relax. On this matter, Yadlin noted on Monday that Israel has the capability to independently strike Iran's nuclear program, even without a green light from the U.S., but that it would need American support in the years following a strike. The chances of getting this support would depend on whether Obama felt Israel had no choice but to act. This is why Israel must accept America's current diplomatic effort with Iran.
At this point, Obama and Netanyahu have an interest in joining forces for the arduous diplomatic campaign ahead. They need this not only for their own countries, but also so they will be able to overcome the inevitable hesitation of some European nations. Israel would be right to hope that the U.S. would conduct negotiations with Iran without the active participation of its allies. This will clarify the situation.
Does Netanyahu view the situation in a positive light? He will have several opportunities to answer this during his current trip to the U.S. His most prominent podium will be at the U.N. General Assembly, where he will deliver an address on Tuesday. It would be worthwhile for Netanyahu to update his speech based on his meeting with Obama.
On Capitol Hill, the prime minister will be greeted by senators and congressmen who have displayed great resoluteness toward Iran. Netanyahu will also conduct interviews with American media outlets, which have been thrilled with Rouhani's words. He will have to go against the fashionable trend and dampen the media's enthusiasm.