In the wake of heightened tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama surrounding Iran's nuclear program, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren paid the prime minister an unusual whistle-stop visit Sunday in Jerusalem.
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Oren met with Netanyahu and briefed him ahead of his trip to the UN General Assembly taking place in New York later in the week.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. confirmed Ambassador Oren is in Israel and that it is a "routine visit." Despite the embassy's comments, this is in fact an unusual visit. Oren flew to Israel on Shabbat in order to make it to Israel in time to meet Netanyahu on Sunday. Oren's trip to Israel was kept under wraps and a paucity of staff members at the embassy and in the foreign ministry were aware it was taking place.
Oren will be in Israel for only 36 hours and return to Washington D.C. before Yom Kippur.
Oren's visit is out of the ordinary also because just last Wednesday, National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror was in the U.S. capital to meet with his counterpart, Thomas E. Donilon. According to the report in Maariv, Amidror's conversations concentrated on efforts to reach new understandings with the U.S. government on Iran and at least some of which are to be made public.
Although Netanyahu was already informed of the White House's concerns, Ambassador Oren also arrived in order to brief the prime minister ahead of his meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday. In addition, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Clinton himself on Sunday evening in New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The two discussed the Iran nuclear issue during their meeting.
In the last two weeks, Jewish leaders, members of Congress and Democratic Senators as well as senior White House officials all conveyed that the White House is angry with Netanyahu's attitude towards President Obama on Iran.
One of the most blatant messages conveyed to Netanyahu was in a letter sent by Democratic Senator from California Barbara Boxer a week ago. In the letter, she expressed her "deep disappointment" that Netanyahu has questioned U.S. support of Israel and its commitment to the Iran issue.
In his conversations with the U.S. Administration and in interviews to the media, Oren has presented the same unyielding line as Netanyahu regarding the need to determine red lines on Iran. Nevertheless, a profile on Oren published in the New York Times last week said Oren had reservations about the scathing tone Netanyahu used to describe the dispute between Israel and the U.S. on Iran.
Netanyahu will fly to New York Wednesday night, following Yom Kippur. Hours after his arrival he will give a speech at the UN General Assembly. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said on Sunday that Netanyahu is still working on drafts of his speech. He is enlisting the help of his advisers, as well as outside speechwriters.
"I intend to reiterate the fact that the most dangerous country in the world cannot be allowed to arm itself with the most dangerous weapon in the world," Netanyahu said at the opening of a government meeting on Sunday.
Netanyahu's speech, just like the meetings and interviews he plans to provide the American media with, will all focus on Iran. As of now, Netanyahu's timetable while in New York is relatively empty. In addition to his meeting with Clinton, he is due to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper and EU's policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is overseeing negotiations with Iran on behalf of the six superpowers: the U.S., china, Russia, Germany, Britain and France.
Netanyahu's speech will take place half an hour after Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' speech, with Slovenian President Danilo Türk in between. As opposed to last year, when the Palestinians submitted a request to be accepted as a full member of the UN, this year this issue has been forgotten.
Abbas is expected to declare during his speech that the Palestinian intend to ask the UN General Assembly to recognize them as a non-member observer state, a much lighter demand than last year.
However, Abbas will refrain from stipulating the date of the appeal. Estimates are that such a move – if it even ends up taking place – will get started only after U.S. elections on November 6th.