October 3, 2014

U.S. and Israel: An Icy Meeting

Obama and Netanyahu discussed ISIL and Iran, but they’re not quite on the same page.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to the White House to meet Barack Obama for the 12th time. The topics of discussion: ISIL and the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

While U.S. leadership is fixated on degrading the Islamic State/ISIL/ISIS, Netanyahu made it plain that he was more concerned about Iran. “Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat [ISIL]. We think everybody should support this,” he said. “And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.” The Israeli leader pleaded with Obama not to lift Iranian sanctions.

But this was a meeting in which Washington Post writer Dana Milbank wrote of Netanyahu: His “body language was that of a man suffering intestinal discomfort.” There’s no question that the U.S. and Israel haven’t been on the same page in recent years. In fact, just hours after the morning meeting, the White House once again chided Israel for a proposed new development in east Jerusalem.

Yet Israel’s fears, likewise expressed by commentator Charles Krauthammer, lie more in the prospect of a nuclear Iran. ISIL has little respect among Israeli leadership. While Obama promoted them from the “JV team,” Netanyahu still describes ISIL as “militant Islamists on pickup trucks armed with Kalashnikov rifles.”

But in his United Nations speech this week, Netanyahu argued Hamas and ISIL have a shared philosophy, making them “branches of the same poisonous tree.” (Recall the Israeli offensive this past summer to root out Hamas militants who were firing rockets into Israeli territory from safe harbor across the border in Gaza.)

Netanyahu is rightly concerned about a softening of America’s position on Iranian nukes, comparing the prospect to ISIL acquiring chemical weapons in Syria. As he warned the United Nations:

“[D]on’t be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive. It’s designed for one purpose and for one purpose only: to lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran’s path to the bomb. The Islamic Republic is now trying to bamboozle its way to an agreement that will remove the sanctions it still faces and leave it with a capacity of thousands of … centrifuges … to enrich uranium. This would effectively cement Iran’s place as a threshold military nuclear power. And in the future, at the time of its choosing, Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime, in the world’s most dangerous region, would obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons. Allowing that to happen would pose the gravest threat to us all.”

The only person Iran truly has to fool is the president of the United States, and over the last five-plus years it’s become clear that the survival of the lone functioning democracy in the Middle East isn’t a priority for Obama.

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