Obama to Israelis: If Anybody Messes With Israel, America Will Be There

Deal with Iran is the best bet to prevent it from attaining nuclear weapons, Obama tells New York Times reporter Thomas Friedman.

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President Barack Obama and NYT journalist Thomas Friedman, April 5, 2015.
President Barack Obama and NYT journalist Thomas Friedman, April 5, 2015.

U.S. President Barack Obama said there is no better option to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon than the framework deal signed in Switzerland, in a statement he directed to the Israeli people in an interview with the New York Times.

"What we will be doing even as we enter into this deal is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there," Obama told The Times' Thomas Friedman.

Obama said he is willing to make commitments that would make it clear to Israel's neighbors, including Iran, that if Israel is attacked by any country, the U.S. would stand by it.

"And that, I think, should be ... sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table,” Obama told the Times.

Obama said Israel has every right to be concerned about Iran, considering its regime's history of anti-Semitic statements, Holocaust denial and expressed desire to destroy Israel. But, Obama said, if the framework deal can be implemented, it is the best approach to maintaining Israel's security.

According to Obama, a military strike would set back the Iranian nuclear program for a while, but will "almost certainly" lead to an Iranian rush toward a bomb, vindicating Iranian hard-liners' approach that "'This is what happens when you don’t have a nuclear weapon: America attacks.’"

Obama said that as the framework deal with Iran gives the West unprecedented and vigorous rights to inspect Iran's nuclear facilities for 20 years, and as Iran's nuclear program would remain "not just frozen but effectively rolled back to a larger degree," the notion that this deal shouldn't be signed or is not in Israel's interest is "simply incorrect."

Obama also discussed his depiction in Israel and among some American Jews as anti-Israel, saying it has been "personally difficult" for him to hear such allegations.

"There has to be the ability for me to disagree with a policy on settlements, for example, without being viewed as ... opposing Israel. There has to be a way for Prime Minister Netanyahu to disagree with me on policy without being viewed as anti-Democrat, and I think the right way to do it is to recognize that as many commonalities as we have, there are going to be strategic differences," Obama told Friedman.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu launched a concentrated blitz on U.S. media against the framework deal, reached last week in Lausanne, Switzerland, terming it a "dream deal for Iran and a nightmare deal for the world.”

"I'm not trying to kill any deal. I'm trying to kill a bad deal," Netanyahu told NBC, adding that the current plan "leaves the preeminent terrorist state of our time with a vast nuclear infrastructure."

Netanyahu's statements were answered by an exceptionally harsh reaction from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal), who said the Israeli prime minister's stance is unrealistic, and she wished that "he would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative."

At the same time, sources in Washington believe that it is increasingly unlikely, if not impossible, to achieve a congressional majority for a bill that could scuttle the deal and also overcome a presidential veto. It’s also possible that such legislation will not even be ready before the talks with Tehran reach their final stages at the end of June. The sources said that Democratic legislators who in the past had expressed support for such legislation are now hesitating, given the overall positive response to the details of the agreement – in the media, among nuclear experts, but most especially among their liberal voters.

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