Obama, Netanyahu face wide differences on nuclear Iran, chemical Syria
President Barack Obama was greeted on his arrival in Israel midday Wednesday, March 20 with unprecedented ceremonial honors and fanfare, but after the handshakes and the drive through the sunny, flag-draped streets of Jerusalem, he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were to sit down for tough talk on their yawning differences on three issues: nuclear Iran, Syria and the first use of chemical weapons, and the Palestinians. Expressions of devout commitment to a historic alliance and the president’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security will be left outside the door in the public domain. Obama is to be confronted with the fallout for Israel of the policies he pursued in his first term, especially his backing for the Arab Revolt which erupted in December 2010.
1. Since then, Iran has been allowed to reach a point just short of the development of two types of nuclear bombs, one fueled by enriched uranium and the other by plutonium.
2. Regardless of repeated fruitless endeavors, President Obama still holds to diplomacy and sanctions for achieving a breakthrough with Iran over its nuclear program. Circles in Washington and Jerusalem maintain that the gap between Washington and Jerusalem is over nothing more than the timeline estimated for Iran to attain a nuclear bomb capacity. But this is just a US-Israeli maneuver for giving their diplomats and intelligence officials space to pour honey and pretend the two governments can still sort out their differences.
This maneuver has been used by self-styled “nuclear experts” in both capitals as a PR exercise to cover up a very real rift. They criticize the Netanyahu government as intransigent for insisting on Iran’s total cessation of 20 percent uranium enrichment (a step before weapons grade), the shutdown of its Fordo enrichment plan and removal from the country of low-enriched uranium.
Israel must give way on these demands for the sake of an accommodation with Tehran, they say.
This view is supported by the “strategists” who maintain Israel is not up to the military challenge of preempting a nuclear Iran and must rely on US cooperation. Therefore, it is important to trust President Obama when he declares that his administration will not allow Iran to attain a nuclear bomb.
So firmly has this viewpoint taken root in the mass media, that deviant opinions are discredited as mistaken, even when they come from highly regarded and well-informed individuals like Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and one of his predecessors, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, which they support with a whole battery of updated facts and educated evaluations.
3. The infamous Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah alliance has not suffered the slightest crack despite Obama’s promise to work it loose. Many Middle Easterners find it is stronger than ever. For instance, whereas before the Syrian war, Hizballah commanded a well-trained 30,000-strong army which held the whip hand in Beirut, this former militia has expanded into a veritable Shiite army of 50,000 combat-seasoned troops who are fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad alongside the Iranian Al Qods Brigades.
The Hizballah militia has grown into a formidable army.
4. President Obama, who long held the belief that Assad’s fall was “imminent,” no longer mentions this possibility. Indeed, before he set out on his Middle East trip, US sources in Washington were whispering the latest intelligence forecast that Syrian rebels would control half of Damascus by the end of the summer and so replicate the Aleppo partition.
5. In the 48 hours leading up to the president’s arrival in Israel, the Syrian Air Force for the first time bombed targets inside Lebanon (March 18) and fired a Scud missile armed with a chemical warhead which exploded in Aleppo on March 19. While Israel is acutely concerned by this escalation just across its frontiers, the Obama administration has not reacted – evidence of another major gap between Washington and Jerusalem.
6. Israel feels it has been dropped in the middle of a dangerous vortex set up by the US-backed Arab Revolts in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and gaining in momentum from the bloody tumult in Syria. The Jewish state is now beset with hostile Islamist regimes in which al Qaeda and Iran are increasingly embedded.
If King Abdullah’s throne in Jordan succumbs to the wave of unrest set up by the Muslim Brotherhood there too, Israel will be completely surrounded.
7. On peace talks with the Palestinians, the Obama administration has made no headway for bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table.
In short, the omens at the outset of the US president’s talks in Israel are not encouraging.
The US mainstream media campaign to discredit Israeli intelligence findings and estimates on Iran’s nuclear progress has not abated and indeed intensified in time for the Obama visit.
Furthermore, in the absence of an administration reaction, Israeli officials made a point of confirming the onset of chemical warfare in Syria. This contingency the Obama administration had pledged would bring forth US intervention.
These differences cannot be accounted for by claims of personal antipathy between the US president and Israeli prime minister. They deeply affect matters of substance and policy.