February 23, 2012
Divided by common foe, Israel and U.S. tangle over Iran
(Page 4 - Previous Page)
The last time Obama and Netanyahu met at the White House, in May, the Israeli leader bluntly took the president to task in remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, lecturing him on Jewish history and flatly rejecting his proposal that Israel’s 1967 borders be the basis for negotiations on creating a Palestinian state. Obama was furious and relations hit rock bottom.
Little more than a year before, Israel had announced a major new settlement expansion in East Jerusalem - a move that embarrassed Vice President Joe Biden during a visit - and Obama ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call Netanyahu and dress him down.
Not long afterwards, Obama walked out of tense talks with Netanyahu at the White House and left the Israeli prime minister cooling his heels while he had dinner with his family - treatment widely interpreted as a snub by Israeli media.
Frosty relations between the two leaders have thawed somewhat over the past year as Obama has taken a tougher line on Iran sanctions while refraining from any new Middle East peace drives. Obama also scored points with Israelis for opposing a Palestinian bid for U.N. statehood recognition last September.
“Open lines and security channels have brought the relationship to a particularly good point and at the same time there hasn’t been tension of late on other issues,” a senior administration official said.
But some Obama aides remain suspicious of Netanyahu’s motives. They are convinced that he would prefer to see a Republican take control of the White House in 2013 for fear that Obama’s re-election would give him a freer hand to push anew for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians during a second term.
And any look at the Iranian equation cannot ignore the Holocaust factor - the alarm-ringing “never again” theme Netanyahu invokes in speech after speech about the existential threat that Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, would face if Iran got the bomb.
Those who claim to know Netanyahu well say he means what he says; it is his job to ensure the Jewish state’s survival. He has made clear that in addition to the Iranian threat, he sees Israel at risk from the deep uncertainty sown by the Arab spring uprisings, especially with the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was seen by Israel as a guardian of its peace treaty with Egypt.
An address to Israel’s parliament in January on the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day could easily be tweaked into the kind of statement the government might issue as Israeli planes head home from their Iranian bombing missions.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand. The Iranian regime openly calls for the destruction of the State of Israel; it is planning the destruction of Israel; and it is working to destroy Israel,” he said.
“In the end, with regards to threats to our very existence, we cannot abandon our future to the hands of others. With regard to our fate, our duty is to rely on ourselves alone.”
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Mark Hosenball in Washington; editing by Janet McBride