Netanyahu, Obama divided on price of Israeli strike against Iran
Netanyahu considers missiles on Tel Aviv preferable to nukes in Iran, says senior Israeli official.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented one central question during his meetings in Washington in the past few days: "What will be the price of not acting against Iran?" he asked at every opportunity.
Netanyahu does not believe that the international sanctions against Iran or the dialogue with Iran will prevent the country from procuring nuclear weapons, said a senior Israeli official Tuesday. That is why Netanyahu thinks the damage and casualties from a missile attack on Tel Aviv in response to an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities will be small change compared to the consequences of the Iranian government attaining nuclear capability.
Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Sunday with a list of disagreements with U.S. President Barack Obama on the Iranian issue. The White House and Netanyahu's staff there saw a closing of gaps on several issues. Some of the differences even disappeared completely, they said, but one central issue remained in dispute: The consequences of an Israeli military attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu said the Iranian regime has reached an official policy decision to destroy Israel. Therefore, in Netanyahu's view the debates on the matter are incorrectly focusing on the number of missiles that will be fired at Israel or the number of dead after an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities and the Iranian counterattack. In Netanyahu's view, the Israeli home front will absorb a blow even if the U.S. attacks Iran, so the real issue is the dangers of Iranian nuclear missiles, and not conventional ones.
Speaking at the AIPAC conference in Washington on Monday, Netanyahu called on the international community to acknowledge the fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. "Amazingly, some people refuse to acknowledge that Iran's goal is to develop nuclear weapons. You see, Iran claims that it's enriching uranium to develop medical research. Yeah, right," Netanyahu said.
"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then what is it? That's right, it's a duck. But this duck is a nuclear duck and it's time the world started calling a duck a duck," he said.
Netanyahu reiterated the fact that Israel reserves its right to protect itself. He added that for Israel all options remain on the table. "I will never gamble with the security of Israel," he explained.
Netanyahu warned of the dangers of a nuclear Iran. "A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella," he said. "That means that Iran's terror proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas will be emboldened to attack America, Israel and others because they will be backed by a power with atomic weapons."
Drawing a parallel with arguments against attacking Iran, Netanyahu said the War Department explained that such an operation at Auschwitz could provoke "even more vindictive action by the Germans."
"Think about that - even more vindictive action than the Holocaust," Netanyahu said. He dismissed arguments that an attack on Iran would exact too heavy a toll by provoking Iranian retaliation. He held up a copy of a 1944 letter from the U.S. War Department rejecting world Jewish leaders' entreaties to bomb the Auschwitz death camp because it would be "ineffective" and "might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans."
"My friends, 2012 is not 1944," Netanyahu said. "Today, we have a state of our own. And the purpose of the Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future."
"Both sides put there cards on the table and understood each other, despite the continuing disagreement," said National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror yesterday. He said both sides now know where the other side stands and "we, as Israelis, need to digest what the Americans told us and decide based on our own interests."
Obama told Netanyahu on Monday that the U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency have the means to keep track of the Iranian uranium enrichment program in Qom. Therefore, Obama is convinced that if the Iranians start enriching uranium to high levels intended for nuclear weapons, they will know immediately and there will be adequate time to act, said the senior Israeli source.
Netanyahu also had a number of achievements in Washington. He requested the United States approve the sale of advanced refueling aircraft as well as GBU-28 bunker-piercing bombs to Israel during a recent meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a top U.S. official said yesterday. The American official said that U.S. President Barack Obama instructed Panetta to work directly with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter, indicating that the U.S. administration was inclined to approve the request as soon as possible.
Obama said yesterday that it is his belief that there is a still a "window of opportunity" to use diplomacy instead of military force to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. During a press conference, Obama also warned against prematurely instigating war over the matter.
Referring to his position that the world should exhaust the path of sanctions and political pressure on Iran before considering a military option, the U.S. president urged caution in reference to talk of war, adding: "This is not just an issue of Israeli interests - this is an issue of American interests."
However, Obama added, "It's also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences for the United States as well.
"When I visit [U.S. veterans hospital] Walter Reed, or when I send letters to families whose loved ones didn't come home, I'm reminded that there is a cost," Obama said, adding: "Sometimes we bear that cost, but we think it through. We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past, when we haven't thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes."
In an apparent gesture toward American officials who have urged the president to attack Iran, Obama said: "Typically, it's not the folks who are popping off who pay the price - it's the men and women in uniform who pay the price.
"Historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel ... and that broad statement is confirmed with what we've done with the last three years, things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from being rained down on Israel ... and we're going to continue this unprecedented security commitment," Obama added.
When asked whether he thought nuclear talks with Iran - which are reportedly scheduled to be renewed soon - would last as long as they did, Obama said that "there is no doubt that over the last three years, when Iran has engaged in negotiation, there has been hemming and hawing and stalling the issue in a way that the international community concluded was not serious."
Asked whether the upcoming talks represent a "last chance" for diplomacy with Iran, Obama said the world's expectations, "given the consequences of inaction for them, the severe sanctions, the huge toll that it's taking on their economy, [the indication] was that Iran's representatives to the talks ... were serious."
"They understand that the world community means business. To resolve the issue Iran will have to come to the table" and prove that "the intentions of their nuclear program is peaceful," Obama added.
Obama and the Republican presidential hopefuls clashed yesterday over how to address Iran's nuclear program. The Republican contenders accused Obama of weakness, while Obama blasted back that presidents do not launch wars lightly.
Obama spoke after Republicans Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich each presented themselves as hawkish alternatives to the president, unafraid of the consequences of military conflict. The candidates paused while competing for votes in the high-stakes Super Tuesday primary elections to join the speakers' lineup at a conference of America's leading pro-Israel lobby. Santorum appeared in person, while Romney and Gingrich spoke via satellite. All spoke of the need for even tougher sanctions or military action against Iran.