The much anticipated summit between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel came and went. It was a success and it was a failure. They did what they had to do and said what they needed to say.
As these two leaders began their meeting, there was tension. Frankly, they do not like each other. They are uncomfortable with each other. Most important, Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu do not trust each other. You do not have to be an expert reader of body language to see it. There was clearly tension as the meeting began.
Despite the tension and the mistrust, the public hoopla, and the advance pessimism and guessing games about what would transpire behind closed doors, this was an important meeting for both sides. They both wanted it to work, so they both were working hard to make it work. In many ways it did work – but the differences between the president and the prime minister are too drastic on certain issues for there ever to be complete agreement.
The White House believes that the sanctions imposed upon Iran are working and that future talks with Iran can result in serious progress. Israel believes that Iran is using the sanctions and the promise of future talks as stalling tactics, and using the time they have bought to continue the race against their own internal clock to complete their nuclear work. While Washington believes there is still time until the regime in Tehran decides to go ahead with the development of nuclear weapons, Jerusalem believes that decision has been made.
In addition to the rhetorical salvos being traded and the potential strike by Israel, the White House is concerned about the price of oil. The president wants to bring down the price of oil and if that means reducing tension with Iran, so be it, that is what he will do. Israel’s response is that gas worries are immediate and short-term, while Iran’s nuclear capabilities are imminent and long-term. Jerusalem maintains that it is childish to sacrifice the long-term goals to achieve short-term victories.
The White House believes that the Iranians are not intent on getting a nuclear weapon to use in regional conflicts. Israel cannot afford to take that risk. It says that it takes Iranian rhetoric seriously and that Iran’s threats to destroy Israel that are made almost daily are real.
Despite their differences, personally and diplomatically, when the doors opened, it was clear that Netanyahu had secured from Obama the ability to strike and defend Israel against Iran without condemnation from the United States. Of course, Israel certainly has the right to defend itself. What it wanted from the United States was the guarantee of a casual yellow light when theories turn into actions. Now Israel has that yellow light.
There has been a lot in the news about Israel not even informing the United States of an upcoming attack on Iran. That is propaganda. It should never happen and it will not happen. It cannot happen – the United States monitors and controls important airspace that Israel will need to use in the event of an attack against Iran. In order to fly through that air space and not be perceived as hostile, Israel must have the correct electronic computer codes. These codes are essential, they effectively transform a plane from the unknown (hostile) to a friend. Without the codes, the plane is a bogey, a threatening plane from an enemy squadron. With the codes, the plane is a welcome guest in United States-controlled airspace.
Israel also wanted to know if either can buy or lease refueling planes from the United States to bolster the few it already has. More of these planes allow for a wider variety of strategies, and give Israel the option of approaching and attacking Iran from several directions, not just one.
Netanyahu also wanted a pledge from Obama that if an Israeli pilot finds it necessary to eject from his plane, the United States will join alongside Israel in a search-and-rescue mission to bring him home.
We do not know everything that happened in the meeting, but we can speculate a lot and soon, as events unfold, we will know even more.
In many ways, this entire Iran nuclear issue has been an I Told You So scenario. The United States under Obama never really believed Israel about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Now, because Israel is convinced that its predictions are coming ever closer to reality, tensions between the Israeli prime minister and the president of the United States that had been kept in check until now are emerging.
Here is the bottom line: Israel is being asked to place its destiny and defense in a hedged bet that the White House is correct and that Iran is not going to use or distribute their nuclear weapons.
That is dangerous.