There are two ways of looking at the rumor of the White House telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that President Obama was unavailable to meet with him at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly this month: 1. Their schedules were just plain incompatible. 2. The other way. Since nobody takes anything said in a political context in face value, and there’s more material to be mined from it, let’s look at this the other way.
The two leaders will be in New York for the meeting on different days, but we’re told Netanyahu’s office did attempt to arrange a meeting before his speech – scheduled for September 25th; Obama’s will be on the 28th – with no success. The above link mentions “a busy schedule of campaign rallies” for Obama that could have been an obstacle to a bilateral meeting with Netanyahu. To which I say: Tough shit. When Netanyahu asks to meet, best believe you ought to meet. It’s more valuable than any rally.
The White House denies that a request for an interview was ever made, let alone that they turned it down, and said the two leaders spoke on the phone for an hour yesterday. But plenty of damage was done to the perception of their relations with Netanyahu already. They were embarrassed enough when Netanyahu intimated that Obama didn’t have the moral authority to second-guess his decision, if and when he makes it, to attack Iran. That moral authority would be regained if this happened:
Netanyahu has argued that setting a clear boundary for Iran’s uranium enrichment activities and imposing stronger economic sanctions could deter Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and mitigate the need for military action.
As I see it, what he’s really looking for is a deadline for the U.S. to give up on engaging with Iran and start rattling the sabre a little. Lord knows Israel has. But its citizens, according to polls, don’t want Netanyahu to act unilaterally. By requesting a meeting at all, Netanyahu looks like the bigger person.
I would accept an Israeli attack on Iran if it met the following criteria:
- it’s done ONLY in the event of irrefutable intelligence showing plans for an Iranian attack on Israel;
- it targets ONLY attack capabilities and cannot result in civilian deaths;
- and the capabilities of Iranian allies are included (at the exact same time) to mitigate the chances of retaliation.
These criteria comprise the red line Obama can present to Netanyahu, in exchange for drawing a red line for Iran to clean up its act. When they’ll next get to exchange red lines is less certain with these tension rumors.