By Shalom Yerushalmi
...Once, Netanyahu wanted – but couldn't. Today, Netanyahu can – but not sure he really wants to sabotage by himself the good relations with Obama. The whole business is open.
Translated by Viktoria Lymar
Edited by Steven Stenzler
21/22 March 2013
The following is a special edit by IranEdge of the excerpts from two larger consecutive articles by the author.
Obama embraced, flattered, promised lavish aid and spread amity and love all the way to Jerusalem. Even the disagreements on Iran – he has wrapped them in cellophane. But ultimately, the President of the United States wants to delay an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities and perhaps, reach a settlement with the Palestinians in other ways, sweeter than honey – and he also has a prominent domestic American interest. Meanwhile he's buying anew the hearts of the Israelis.
In the language of intelligence, it's called "spotlight." The U.S. President comes to Israel well-equipped, with huge gear and knowledge. His entourage of the White House and Secret Service personnel bring here with them an entire country, from personal spoons and forks for the President's use, to phone lines, computers, printers, sophisticated technological equipment and of course, the famed black box with the red button, that entered the sitting room of Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu with the officer accompanying Barack Obama. The event, by the way, quite frightened some of those present.
President Barack Obama has come to settle in the hearts – and he succeeded. He did it his special way – in the smiling, gentleman-like, patient, chummy and informal fashion. Obama didn't miss an opportunity to strengthen by his remarks the bond between the United States and Israel, just as we like to hear. He promised us generous aid for the 100 coming years. He complimented everything that moves, from the Iron Dome in Ben-Gurion airport to Sara Netanyahu, whom he dubbed "a rose between the thorns."1 From the excellent weather to Yair Netanyahu the son, "smart and handsome," as he put it. A journalist close to Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg, tagged his trip to Israel "Operation Desert Schmooze."2 So it also seemed.
Obama was spreading sympathy and love all of the way. These were not just the speeches in which he promised almost everything, except a solution to the political controversies. These also were the little mannerisms, friendly small talk, incessant supportive encouragement to every minister he met at the airport... Obama's hosts didn't stop to admire the knowledge he gathered about each of them. Even the spontaneous taking off of the jacket was intended to inform us that Obama feels at home. It is unclear why Prime Minister Netanyahu rushed to imitate him, after some hesitation. In terms of the Prime Minister, that came out poorly. Anyway, there's a difference in the look of the two.
Two High Jumps
But [we] must make no mistake: there are no free gifts and no gestures without interests. Obama has performed here two high jumps. He appealed, over the government's head, to the Israeli public. Over the head of the Israeli public, he addressed the U.S. Congress. To the Israelis, he applied feel-good diplomacy. We're not coming to coerce you as we did once – so he conveyed. We come to learn, to understand – but you should know that an arrangement with the Palestinians is in your interest and that of the Jewish people. To the Republicans in Congress and in general ("It's good to get away from Congress,"3 admitted Obama), the President delivered a different message: "Look how they receive me in Israel, stop attacking me on this matter and cooperate. There's much to do in America."
Obama has wrapped in cellophane differences of opinion as well, but the debate is essential – you could say: existential. At the press conference with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister started with the Iranian issue, continued to the Syrian one and concluded with the Palestinians. Obama proceeded in completely reverse order – which indicates the degree of importance he attaches to each subject.
The Iranian story is dramatic, troublesome and preoccupying more than anything. Obama wants to carry on the sanctions. Netanyahu does not believe in sanctions. Obama says all options are on the table. Netanyahu wants military action now. Obama gives the Iranians a year. Netanyahu knows that in so doing, he neutralizes Israel's ability to act. In a few months, the 'immunity zone' is going to be completed and Israel will be unable to breach all the important reactors in Iran.
What do you do? I wasn't a fly on the wall in the Prime Minister's residence where the dialogue took place yesterday between Obama and Netanyahu, the head of the National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, and military secretary to the prime minister, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir. I can only imagine what happened there. Obama, probably in the same good spirit, reminded the Prime Minister of the intelligence cooperation and the effective intelligence initiatives the two countries maintain. The American President asked Netanyahu not to contravene, and not to go for an independent attack which may compromise the U.S. too. It could be that Obama reminded of the internal opposition to such an offensive that used to be in the past also among the ministers of the famous Forum of Eight4 and the army chiefs.
This opposition hasn't disappeared yet, but most of the staff has changed. Netanyahu will navigate the cabinet. The new members will be for him like putty in the hand of the creator. In the first year at least, he will have a say on issues such as Iran, Syria, the Palestinians and Hamas. This wasn't the case in the previous government. In late 2010, Netanyahu and [Defense Minister] Barak decided to ready the [IDF's] military operations system for an operation in Iran. Four ministers of the octet – Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Eli Yishai and Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon himself – stood on their hind legs, and along with the Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz and the military leaders prevented the initiative. Some of them said afterwards that "We saved the country."
Also the American pressure exerted from the outside worked well. The Americans proposed far-reaching sanctions and promised to do everything to stop the Iranians. Today, the situation is different. The Israeli option to attack is shrinking to some few months. The immunity zone is steadily closing, as stated, and Israel will no longer be able to penetrate all the [nuclear] facilities. The only question Netanyahu asked President Obama in this regard was, apparently: "Mr. President, should we wait for you? Should we trust you?" And the Americans reiterated: "Certainly."
As of today, Netanyahu has got a narrow cabinet, new and inexperienced, and can pass there whatever he wants. Naftali Bennett, one of the members of this cabinet, acknowledged yesterday that he had not yet learned the Iranian subject matter – so he won't be able to develop opposition to the Prime Minister. In other words: once, Netanyahu wanted – but couldn't. Today, Netanyahu can – but not sure he really wants to sabotage by himself the good relations with Obama. The whole business is open.
...This morning, there takes place a crucial work meeting between Obama and Netanyahu in the Prime Minister's Office. If Israel agreed to the American terms, the clocks are set at the same time, more or less. If Israel refused, and the possibility of that is low, the timetable might go wrong again.
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Original Hebrew articles:
Image credit: Israel Hayom/Shlomo Cohen
4. Forum of Eight [Senior Ministers], Shminiya” [Heb.] – ‘octet’, – used to be sort of more intimate consultative body, Netanyahu’s inner cabinet that used to vote on all major policy proposals. With Avi Dichter’s joining at the time (as it was before with Shaul Mofaz), it became Forum of Nine – 'nonet.'