Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Both Israel and America’s leaders addressed their nations this weekend in short, pithy statements, updating citizens on where they currently stand on Iran. One thing is clear: they are not on the same page.

Barack Obama devoted his weekly video address on Saturday to a message of gratitude to U.S. Armed Forces, following a Friday visit to Fort Bliss marking the end of its ground operations in Iraq. He emphasized not only that he is speaking “now with no Americans fighting in Iraq,” but that next month, the last troops sent three years ago as part of the “surge” in Afghanistan will be returning home and that “by 2014 the transition to Afghan-led will be complete.”

Obama’s plan is for America to start focusing inwards. As we turn the page on a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building here at home." The emphasis from now on will be on rebuilding America’s creaking infrastructure, taking care of its veterans, its needy and its young.

He did not mention any new enemies on the horizon, certainly not the possibility of going to war against Iran. The three-minute address is hardly a detailed foreign-policy manifesto for the upcoming elections but does constitute the bare-bones essentials. The president does not plan to have a new war deflect attention from his re-election attempts and the pullbacks from Iraq and Afghanistan are two achievements he plans to market vigorously to voters.

Meanwhile at the start of the weekly ministers’ meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s televised remarks were foremostly focused on Iran, but also a denunciation of the entire international community. First the 120 nation-members of the Non-Aligned Movement who “listened to the anti-Semitic diatribe of the ruler of Iran,” none of them leaving the auditorium.

Netanyahu mentioned last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency report as “proof of what I have saying for a long while – the international sanctions are weighing down on Iran’s economy, but they are not delaying in any way the progress of the Iranian nuclear program.”

But it wasn’t just the non-aligned nations who Netanyahu blamed: “The Iranians are using their talks with the world-powers to gain time and to push their nuclear program forward. I believe that we must say the truth – the international community is not setting Iran a clear red line and Iran is not seeing international resolve to stop its nuclear program. Until that happens, Iran will not stop [the] program. Iran must not have a nuclear weapon." In other words, Obama as the leader of the world’s superpower has not done enough.

Netanyahu is currently isolated on the international stage. For the next two months the only issue that will interest the world is the Obama-Romney contest (though Syria will continue to bleed on the sidelines) and the president will do everything to maintain his foreign policy record as someone who has ended America’s “decade of war,” settling accounts by terminating Osama bin Laden and winding down Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither can Netanyahu hope that the Republicans will put Iran back on the agenda.

Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday contained a couple of paragraphs that were music to his old friend Bibi’s ears. "Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Bin Laden. But on another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We're still talking, and Iran's centrifuges are still spinning. President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro's Cuba."

But that was nearly all there was on foreign policy. Altogether Romney devoted just 202 words to American’s performance on the international stage, less than five percent of his entire speech. The GOP candidate knows that the only way he can win this election is on the economy, not by scaring voters with another war.  

Netanyahu is the only world leader who is still talking about the Iranian nuclear issue. The P5+1 talks with the Iranians are on indefinite hold, one Western diplomat said to me last week. “We have taken a step back now and are waiting for the Iranians to respond to our last proposal. Nothing will probably happen before November.”

Short of ordering an attack, there is nothing Netanyahu can do for the next two months to recapture the world’s attention on Iran. Obama (and Romney) will do everything possible to keep it that way.