Red Lines, Deadlines and End Games: Netanyahu Turns Up Iran Heat on Obama

The Israeli prime minister's problem is not the lack of a red line. It's that the U.S. one isn't the same as his.

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as President Barack Obama speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March, 5, 2012.

Updated: Sept. 11, 2012, 10:00 p.m.

Benjamin Netanyahu‘s frustration with the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue is unlikely to be assuaged any time soon, with the Israeli daily Haaretz alleging on Tuesday that the White House has “declined” the Israeli Prime Minister’s request for a meeting during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York later this month. The White House immediately denied the report, with national security spokesman Tommy Vietor explaining that Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in New York after Obama leaves. “They’re simply not in the city at the same time,” Vietor wrote in an email. “But the President and PM are in frequent contact and the PM will meet with other senior officials, including Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, during his visit.” Vietor later emailed: “Contrary to previous press reports, there was never any request for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President in Washington, nor was this request ever denied.” But Israeli media, encouraged by unnamed Israeli officials, are interpreting the decision as a snub – in a week where Netanyahu has made no secret of his exasperation with the Obama Administration.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday fired a thinly-disguised broadside against the Administration, telling reporters in Jerusalem, “Those in the international community who refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.” That was in response to Washington’s rebuff of the Israeli leader’s demand that the U.S. publicly declare a “red line” for Iran’s nuclear work, that if crossed, would trigger a U.S. military response. The Israelis have also demanded that the U.S. set a deadline for Iran to comply with Western demands. But all of Israel’s key Western allies have delivered stern warnings against a go-it-alone military strike, which is also opposed by Israel’s military and security chiefs, as well as by a majority of its polled public. Unable to bend the Administration into accepting his terms and timeline, then, Netanyahu is reduced to playing Cassandra.

(MORE: Exclusive: U.S. Scales Back Military Exercise with Israel, Affecting Potential Iran Strike)

Clinton drew Israeli ire when she set out the Administration’s position on Iran in an interview, on Monday, with Bloomberg TV. “We’re not setting deadlines,” she said. “We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions. We’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good faith negotiation.” But Netanyahu was having none of it, claiming that “as of now, we can clearly say that diplomacy and sanctions have not worked. They have hit the Iranian economy, but they haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear project.”

Netanyahu is certainly correct that the pain of sanctions has not stopped Iran from continuing its nuclear work in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, nor has it prompted Tehran to concede to Western demands at the negotiating table. At the same time, however, the U.S. assessment is that while Iran continues to accumulate nuclear infrastructure that would give it the capability to build a weapon, Tehran has not yet decided to build a bomb. (Many analysts suspect Iran’s current goal is the “nuclear latency” enjoyed by countries such as Japan, which could build nuclear weapons in a matter of months should they deem it strategically necessary to do so.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS on Tuesday that if Iran took the strategic decision, right now, it would need “a little more than a year” to build a bomb. “We think we will have the opportunity, once we know that they’ve made that decision, [to] take the action necessary to stop them,” Panetta said. And it’s at an Iranian move to weaponize nuclear material that the Obama Administration has drawn its own red line. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had reiterated on Monday, “The line is the President is committed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and he will use every tool in the arsenal of American power to achieve that goal.”

(MORE: How Sending Fewer U.S. Troops to Israeli Joint Exercise Further Strains Relations)

The real problem for Netanyahu, is not that Obama hasn’t stated a red line; it’s that Obama’s red line is not the same as Israel’s red line. “If Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do?” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “Exactly what it’s doing. It’s continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs.”

Netanyahu’s red line is not simply Iran “acquiring a nuclear weapon”, but rather Iran attaining the capability to build one — a capacity Tehran arguably already has, but hasn’t begun to use. That’s why Israel insists that the only acceptable outcome of a diplomatic process is the complete dismantling and shipping out of Iran’s enrichment infrastructure and stockpile of fissile material. Prospects for such an outcome remains remote, even if Iran has at various times indicated a willingness to negotiate limits to its nuclear work.

The Obama Administration hasn’t until now outlined its view of an acceptable diplomatic outcome should the Iranians prove willing to compromise, avoiding the question of whether it shares the Israeli view that Iran can’t be allowed to enrich uranium, even as part of a peaceful energy program. And the lack of progress in diplomacy means it hasn’t had to do so. But as things stand, Iran can conceivably continue doing what it’s currently doing without tripping a U.S. red line, incrementally expanding its nuclear capability but being careful to avoid steps that could be construed as moving to build weapons. It’s the fact that Iran’s current incremental expansion of its capabilities will bring ever-tighter sanctions but not a U.S. military strike, that Netanyahu is trying – apparently in vain – to reverse, mostly by threatening a unilateral military strike.

(MORE: Is Israel Angling for a Vow from Obama on Iran?)

In an attempt to restate the status quo, the White House released a statement on Tuesday night declaring: “President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu for an hour tonight as a part of their ongoing consultations. The two leaders discussed the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, and our close cooperation on Iran and other security issues. President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and agreed to continue their close consultations going forward.”

While Netanyahu has been rattling his saber all summer, the Israeli leader has found his position on military action increasingly isolated, both at home and abroad. Even his erstwhile wingman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has now reportedly backed off pushing for a strike that would damage ties with the U.S. A number of Israeli and American military establishment figures have warned that a solo strike by Israel could, at best, briefly delay Iran’s progress, but at the same time ensure that Iran goes ahead and builds a bomb. And without the diplomatic consensus fashioned by the Obama Administration, Israel find it difficult to prevent Iran forging ahead with a covert program.

Perhaps it was the need to create a face-saving retreat from his constant threat to scramble the bombers that had prompted the Israeli leader to begin pressing for the alternative of a declaration of U.S. red lines and deadlines. Now, it appears, the Obama Administration has made clear that it’s not going to have its Iran script written by Netanyahu. And that portends an election season of noisy complaints from an Israeli leader who’s never exactly been shy about letting Americans know what he thinks of their President.

With reporting by Jay Newton-Small/Washington

MORE: Why Israel Is Unlikely to Bomb Iran Before the U.S. Elections

89 comments
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Seahrah
Seahrah

How do you define Red line? That's the main question here. I would say the true definition of Red line belongs to Netanyahu. Obama is not sitting in a pot of boiling water but Netanyahu is. That's the difference and that is why Obama can take it lightly. It is not US security that is under threat. Wake up! It's Israeli's national security! Israel has many histories of being standing at the verge of annihilation scenario.  That is the alertness of Netanyahu you are seeing here.

Benny Bonegrinder
Benny Bonegrinder

What about China?  We owe them about 2 trillion dollars.  They won't be happy when the USA attacks Iran for Israel and the price of oil skyrockets or disappears.  Israel had 65 years to bring economic prosperity to the Palestinians but only made hardened enemies out of them.  It is time for Israel to learn they live in  an area surrounded by 1 1/2 billion muslims and should start being good nieghbors.  After Iran, whose nest? Pakistan, they already have atomic bombs... Saudi Arabia? Turkey My predictions?  Shimon Peres suffers a massive stroke and Netanyahoo is booted from office for being a warmonger jerk

Denise Arruda
Denise Arruda

People haven't gotten over the WTC demotion inside job, the manufactured WMD and subsequent invasion of Iraq and now this loony is pushing for an invasion of Iran?!!

Epetedo
Epetedo

I have a feeling that all of Israel's noise regarding Iran is not just the imagined military threat. It's also jealousy of Iran being a Middle Eastern, technologically advanced, Muslim country with highly educated people. 

Conservatives and other extremists have always liked to equate Islam with illiteracy and backwardness; Iran is exposing their fallacy and they're very jealous.

Through military intervention, they hope to send Iran to some middle age, so that Israel once again can boast that only Jews are tech-savvy in the Middle East.

deliaruhe
deliaruhe

I get the sense that a lot of Americans are getting fed up with Bibi.  I don't imagine they appreciate him interfering in the US election this way.  (Interfering in other countries' business is an American prerogative.) 

The way Bibi is strutting and posturing and demanding is a bit much to take for a country that betrays its own policies in support of Israeli apartheid, and keeps Israel's military budget topped up, even as it contemplates that horror of horrors -- cutting its own military budget.

TianbianHaiou
TianbianHaiou

"To lead the people, walk behind them." 

That is intelligence, sincerity, and faith.

"Of the people, by the people, and for the people."

NewYorkKitty
NewYorkKitty

I am sick of this bullying of US President by Israeli PM. As an independent and scientifically advanced nation, Israel has enough man and fire power to defend itself against Iran. Why must the US be dragged into this when US citizens are faced with a tough job market, terrible economy and the president himself is about to go into re-election! There is enough problem on the home front without making foreign problems a top priority.

Seahrah
Seahrah

@NewYorkKitty Your saying is not promoting world peace. It's a selfish statement you've just made.

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

If Cuba or Venezuela were building a nuke as they repeated over and over again that America should be wiped off the earth, would the US do nothing about it? Well maybe if Obama were president they would do nothing about it but if a real US president were in power he would have no compunction to order a preemptive attack. Israel isn't trying to pull the US into a war; they just want to know the the Islamo-centric Obama won't get into their way. The hypocritical and disingenuous reporting of Israel by this rag and many others is disgraceful. 

jason024
jason024

Preemptive attack on what? Their facilites are in hardened underground bunkers that even our best bombs will not be 100% effective. GWB knew this and now Obama. Setting a red line only to look impotent and cause Iran to use their proxys to attack our embassies are not an option.

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

Unless you're an expert on Israel's military capabilities your point carries no weight.  For all we know Iran's nuclear facilities are more exposed than they'd like us to think. Additionally, Iran is going to use their proxies against the US and Israel regardless of a red line as they have for many years. Shriveling up and appeasing isn't really the way to respond to these monsters.  

jason024
jason024

Google it......you can find out easily.  Or somehow their nuclear facility is not in a hardened bunker underground? 

BTW: We have better munitions than the israelis. But even ours can't do much against Iran. 

Burn1938
Burn1938

If I was Prime Minister Netanyahu I would lower the rhetoric . I certainly would not go out of my way to annoy my only real ally. There are two points of view of just how advanced Irán is on developing a nuclear device but general agreement that sanctions could still work . Also , let us not forget the Russia card . They have already warned of their reaction to an unprovoked attack on Irán . In case we forget , they have more nuclear missiles than the alliess .. So , my dear Benji , stop bullying and act as a statesman . Difficult , I know , for a person with your character ,

unboundried
unboundried

 He's an anti stupidite, it something different that anti semite.

unboundried
unboundried

I'm not a fan of Obama, but I am delighted that an American president has finally put Netanyahu in his place. He may have earned my vote for that single act.

brooklyn2020
brooklyn2020

All those clamoring for war should also admit that they have no regard for the young men that will certainly lose their lives if we do start such a war. Netanyahu couldn't care less about the boys who will fight his war for him but we must. 

Talendria
Talendria

I'm no fan of Israel; they're fair-weather friends at best.  But you can see why they're nervous.  They're surrounded on all sides by people who actively seek their destruction--the very same bloodthirsty mob that just massacred five U.S. diplomats over a movie.  It's true that they started the nuclear arms race in the Middle East by stealing U.S. technology and amassing their own secret arsenal.  It's also true that they can't fend off a combined Arab attack using conventional weapons.  The long-term solution is that Arabs and Jews need to stop hating each other.  In the short-term, I suggest we spike every aquifer in the Middle East with Prozac so they can all chill the **** out.

brooklyn2020
brooklyn2020

Netannyahu should show some restraint instead of portaying that he doesn't care about the life of young Americans. there cannot be war with blood sacrifice 

Namro
Namro

That crazy warmonger, Netanyahu, should be told in no uncertain terms to keep out of US foreign policy - just as he claims and inherent right for Israel to do whatever it pleases!  For too long Israel has tried to subvert and formulate the foreign policy of the US, Britain, and now Canada.

Neanyahu should use his country's resources to pay for his military misadventures - and face the consequences from dissent at home as-well-as the condemnation from the rest of the world, that he richly deserves.

Those politicians, particularly the nuts on the religious right-wing, who support Netanyahu in opposition to their president, are traitors to the US and should be turfed out of office.

Isael's own nuclear ambitions and efforts, including refusal to comply with international inspections or to sign international agreement, are providing the primary impetus for their Middle East neighbours to seek their own nukes.  Their consistent aggressive actions against their neighbours have created mistrust of their intentions not only in the Middle East but also throughout the world.

superlogi
superlogi

Numbnuts, what an anti-Semite thinks is of absolutely no consequence.  Furthermore, most Jewish supporters of Israel are on the left, not the right.  

jason024
jason024

But who has come out criticizing the president for not "supporting Israel?" The GOP.

Who came out saying why didn't you recognize Jerusalem in your party platform? The GOP.

jason024
jason024

Seriously, do you really think Iran will cease making a nuclear weapon without our drawing a line in the sand.  Or is it, you simply don't care?

 ==========

Wow you are naive....Iran is not going to stop buiding a nuke unless we get China and Russia on board.

Secondly our attack option is not going to destroy their program. Their underground facilites are well protected from even our best bombs.  The ONLY way to end it militarily is to invade. Are you up for that scooter?

Do we draw the line in the sand but not invade? Why draw the line if we will look weak b/c we can't do anything to back it up?

superlogi
superlogi

Well, it's good they've some support, isn't it?  Because they're sure not getting it from an administration they thought was their longest and strongest ally.  The buffoon in office goes around the world kowtowing to Muslim extremists, apologizing for past administrations actions toward them while at the same time disrespecting a people who've had half their population eradicated and simply want to survive in the world.  Well, I guess that's called derriere leadership.  Seriously, do you really think Iran will cease making a nuclear weapon without our drawing a line in the sand.  Or is it, you simply don't care?  

akpat
akpat

 Why is it that many feel anyone who posts against Netanyhu are anti Semitic. Perhaps people just dont want to go and have another war that cannot be won for no good reason .

superlogi
superlogi

You mean if Bibi Netanyahu attempts to save his people from nuclear armageddon, he should be chastised for it?  With regard to posts that I have suggested are ant-Semitic, only an anti-Semite would think they weren't. 

Bill Pearlman
Bill Pearlman

Easy to blame the Jews, like Klein, Karon, and a lot of the Time Readership. But when you look at our embassies in Libya and Egypt you see that Israel is surrounded by a bunch of demented psychos. Doesn't make pacifism a logical road to take

akpat
akpat

 Seems to me that Netty is demented himself especially as most Israelis dont want this either.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 And starting wars isn't the road to long term health for Israel either. Despite what the war mongers here and abroad will try and sell us.

Marvin John
Marvin John

@leospidian:twitter @leospidian:disqus i cant delete my post

Arbaminch
Arbaminch

Its fairly clear that the man is afraid, a very uncharacteristic emotion for Israel to exhibit on the world stage.

I wonder what all the talks covering up?

MACV
MACV

Okay, let's get one thing straight .... this is not the United States of Israel.  Bibi can take his sorry behind right back home and draft some of those Hasidic Jews if he wants to go to war with Iran.

 In 1953 The democratically elected government of Iran was overthrown by the CIA and Britain's MI6.  This led to the "Shah of Iran" dictatorship up until 1979.

Iran remembers ... who ... did ... what!

Further, the Israelis wrote the book on TERRORISM, just ask any graduate of West Point or Annapolis. The Irgun bombed the British embassy in Rome. They killed many British people in terrorist attacks even on British soil. They commtted the Deir Yassin massacre. They bombed the King David Hotel building in Jerusalem killing 91 people of various nationalities. They attached "bombs" to the bodies of British Soldiers so that when the Red Cross came to pick them up THEY WERE BLOWN UP ALSO.

The following are the United Nations Security Council resolutions Israel has utterly ignored since 1948 to 2009:

UNSC Res - 57, 89, 93, 100, 101, 106, 111, 119, 171, 228, 237, 242, 248, 250, 251, 252, 256, 259, 262, 265, 267, 270, 271, 279, 280, 285, 298, 313, 316, 317, 332, 337, 347, 425, 427, 446, 450, 452, 465, 467, 468, 469, 471, 476, 478, 484, 487, 497, 501, 509, 515, 517, 518, 520, 521, 573, 592, 605, 607, 608, 611, 636, 641, 672, 673, 681, 694, 726, 799, 904, 1073, 1322, 1402, 1403, 1405, 1435, 1544, 1701, 1860.

These relate to Israel’s violations of international law, UN Charter, Geneva Conventions and for acts of international terrorism. WHY ARE WE BACKING THESE TERRORISTS? Maybe due to the fact that while Jews comprise only 2% of the American population they hold 13 Senate seats and that is the body that votes for War and/or Police Actions. And no one disputes the fact that these individuals have "dual-citizenship" and can rightly be questioned as to where their allegiances lay. Do they work for America or do they work for Israel.

PRESIDENT OBAMA WORKS FOR AMERICA.  ISRAEL BETTER BEHAVE OR WE WILL CUT OFF THEIR MONEY SUPPLY.

Oh, another thing, President Obama and the Secret Service haven't forgotten that the owner of a prominent Israeli Newspaper called FOR THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT OBAMA !

gerryg_rc
gerryg_rc

Hans, I agree. We should stop paying for Bush's wars.

drorbenami
drorbenami

Another amazing article tony baloney,

you are not in jerusalem, you are not in washington, yet you know exactly what everyone's position is on iran .....

what's washington's position on iraq hanging 97 arabs just in 2012 ???

with your brooklyn based telepathic powers, do you think you could tell us what would happen in the world if netanyahu hanged 97 arabs ??? (I mean: besides the fact that you and karl vick would have simultaneous orgasms).......

drorbenami
drorbenami

Hey  tony baloney,

CNN reports that your old buddies in the ANC only pay south african miners 500 dollars a month....

the PLO says that an un skilled palestinian in ramallah earns 600 dollars a month, plus he receives U.N. food subsidies....

does that seem fair to you, tony baloney ???

Debbie Hanrahan
Debbie Hanrahan

If Bibi wants to go to war and attack Iran then he and the Israelis are a soverign nation (thanks to the USA) and can choose to do so.  However, Bibi wants the US to go to the front lines with our money and our sons and daughters blood.  Iran is a concern but Iran is Bibi's Iraq with GWBush.

Bill G Skywatcher
Bill G Skywatcher

Israelis take note: Netanyahu is POISONING the relationship between Israel and the United States.

If our support means ANYTHING to you, you will recall him and depose him.

Don't believe me? Read the comments below.

Netanyahu deserves a vote of NO CONFIDENCE in the Israeli parliament over these statements.

Your very security is in jeopardy.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Although there are many Israelis who are not particularly supportive of  Netanyahu, the Israeli population is pretty much in agreement that Iran must not have nuclear weapons and they also feel that it is Iran's clear and immediate intent to use any such bombs on Israel.

EG: they already feel their "very security is in jeopardy".

Deposing Netanyahu would not change that perception.

Effective response to Iran absolutely will be made no matter what we think.

Bill G Skywatcher
Bill G Skywatcher

The United States of America WILL NOT be blackmailed  or otherwise threatened by Israel.

Netanyahu can go soak his head in some sand if he doesn't like it.

Maybe if he learned how to charm instead of scream he'd have more support over here.

Oh yeah, and I'm Jewish.

Goran Bajramovic
Goran Bajramovic

Americans have no appetite for a conflict with Iran, as much as Netanyahu would love to see it. Netanyahu surely is acting as if he can dictate to America how to conduct its foreign affairs. We support two state solution. Making progress in that regard would give Netanyahu some credibility. America is no longer for sale as was the case during Bush administration. If you want our help, you have to earn it.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

I'm glad our President is not a puppet for Israel.

Mark
Mark

Israel just tried to meddle in our politics, and that crosses the red line of me and lots of other Americans.  Time to walk away from Israel, and reinvest those aid dollars here at home.

max_cady
max_cady

We cannot let a terrorist nation like Israel dictate our forign policy.

Israel is no better than Iran when it comes to hate crimes.