Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was assured of a much friendlier and correct White House welcome for his fifth encounter with President Barack Obama July 6 – compared with the unmannerly treatment meted out to him on March 23. Still, five time bombs with short fuses are ticking under their seats on issues on which the US president's internationalist, diplomacy-first attitude is far from Israel's survivalist, security-first strategic outlook on a number of basic issues. Both will try to overcome their mutual mistrust.
Their respective approaches to Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon and the future of Israel's reputed nuclear arsenal are the most combustible of their five topics of discussion. The US and Israel clearly do not see eye on eye on how and when to take action against Iran.
On June 17, defense secretary Robert Gates said Iran was developing the capability to fire scores or hundreds of missiles at Europe. Ten days later, he reported Iran had enough low-enriched uranium to start building two atom bombs within two years. So by the time the new UN sanctions and the complementary measures Obama approved Friday, July 2 start biting and affecting Tehran's decision-making, the last moment for halting the construction of a nuclear bomb will have come and gone.
On June 28, Adm. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff commented that the US and Israel are "in sync" over the time needed to find out if the sanctions are working or not.
debkafile's military sources describe this assertion as a pious hope rather than established fact, because even the US president cannot be absolutely sure Israel will not launch a surprise attack on Iran's nuclear facilities before it is too late. Until now, he applied the brakes on Israeli action by two means: One by a constant flow of senior American military and intelligence figures to Israel every couple of days and frequent invitations to security minister Ehud Barak and Israeli military leaders to visit the US; second, by a personal presidential pledge to Netanyahu that if Israel holds off from striking Iran, he will continue to back Israel on matters essential to its security.
One such matter is the policy of ambiguity with regard to Israel's nuclear arsenal, i.e., never confirming its existence.
For Jerusalem, this pledge was cast in doubt by Washington's decision, against Israeli protests, to support the resolution calling for a nuclear-free Middle East tabled by Egypt for the Arab and Non-Aligned blocs at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that took place in Washington in May. This motion demanded that Israel join the NPT and accept international inspectors of its nuclear facilities. Israel was further angered by the fact that Iran and its nuclear weapons program were not even mentioned in the resolution.
Although US officials explained that a vote for the motion was obligatory given Obama's comprehensive quest for a world without nuclear weapons. Although Israel's government and security leaders never said this in so many words, they felt the administration had let them down on a key pledge and freed them of the commitment to refrain from a surprise attack on Iran.
The Israeli prime minister and US president, in their talks Tuesday, must therefore forge a new "nuclear accord" governing both Iran and Israel.
Assent on this question could ease the discord on four other key issues:
1. Netanyahu says the "proximity talks," formally started two months ago, have never really taken off, and progress on the topics at issue with the Palestinians demand direct talks for which he is fully prepared at any moment and for which Mahmoud Abbas has pre-conditions. The Israeli prime minister will discuss with the US president various formats for getting this dialogue on track, including a US-Saudi "Marshall Plan" for a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip that came up during Saudi King Abdullah's visit to the White House on June 29.
2. They will also explore ways for Israel to go back to construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements, even nominally, after the 10-month freeze expires on Sept. 26 to ease the pressure on Netanyahu at home. Several Knesset factions held off until after the prime minister's White House visit a bill requiring the government to seek a parliamentary majority for any further suspension of construction. The US will demand closer monitoring of any future freeze.
3. The crisis between Turkey and Israel. So far, Washington had avoided guaranteeing to withhold its support from a UN Assembly motion calling for an international commission to probe the flotilla incident in which Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish vessel leading a convoy for breaking Israel's Gaza blockade and ended in a clash in which 9 Turkish activists were killed and 6 Israelis injured.
Israel's eased embargo on civilian goods to Gaza was widely welcomed.
The two leaders will explore a possible joint US-Israeli stand against Turkish Prime Minister Tayyep Recip Erdogan in view of his deepening bonds with the Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah-Hamas bloc.
4. They will also discuss how the US and Israel can work together against the continued flow of heavy weaponry, including ballistic missiles, from Syria to the Lebanese Shiite terrorist Hizballah.