Obama to Bibi: Enough already on Iran

Whether or not President Obama has really snubbed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel by refusing to meet with him in New York, it’s time that Bibi understood that the administration does not want to be bounced into military strikes on Iran before the November election.

For months now, it has been apparent that there are substantive differences between the United States and Israel over the so-called red lines that would trigger military action. For Israel, it comes down to Iran having a nuclear weapon “capability,” which can mean anything from having enough fissile material stockpiled for a bomb and the components to deliver it. For the Obama administration, when on message, the issue is to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The very public row over the last couple of days has been instructive. First Hillary Clinton told Netanyahu on Monday to pipe down by saying that the United States was “not setting deadlines” and that economic sanctions remained the instrument of choice to pressure Iran into complying with U.N. demands over its nuclear program.

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Then Netanyahu raised the ante by saying, "Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel." This undiplomatic comment was followed by the reports that Obama and Netanyahu would not meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session, and that Obama would be spending time in New York with David Letterman.

Despite suggestions to the contrary by Netanyahu and Republicans on Capitol Hill, it has always been clear that Obama has all options on the table — including military — to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Although Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning, they are still producing uranium enriched to 20 percent — and not the 95 percent needed for weapons-grade. If the Iranians were to go for a bomb, they would have to break out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (to which Israel is not a party despite possessing nuclear weapons), which would send a clear signal of their intentions.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that if Iran were to go for a bomb, the United States would have a year to react.

Netanyahu has so far failed to persuade his own military, the rest of the Cabinet and public opinion in his country that the pre-emptive bombing of Iran is a good idea. He would be well-advised to keep out of the U.S. election — in which his friend Mitt Romney has been hammering Obama for “throwing Israel under the bus” — and concentrate on keeping the alliance strong. Because Israel will need U.S. help if ever it comes to military action.