Netanyahu meets Obama amid US Iran diplomatic push

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House Monday for a meeting and working lunch with President Obama and Vice President Biden, amid intensifying US-Iran diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute.

“We have to test diplomacy” with Iran, Obama said in remarks with Netanyahu at the White House Monday. “We, in good faith, will approach that. They will not be easy.”

“The Prime Minister and I agree that it is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.

Netanyahu said he appreciated President Obama’s assurance that Iran’s words “have to be matched by real actions,” and urged that sanctions pressure not be relieved until there would be verifiable progress toward dismantling Iran’s nuclear program.

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Netanyahu’s White House meetings come ahead of his speech to the United Nations Tuesday, in which he vowed to deliver “facts” and straight talk to counter what he called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “smile campaign” in New York last week.

The Israeli leader’s first visit to Washington in 17 months comes as a new CNN/ORS poll shows that an overwhelming number of Americans–76% –back direct US-Iran negotiations to see if a diplomatic resolution can be found to address concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. The poll, conducted September 27-29, 2013, showed that large majorities of both parties–87% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans—favor the diplomatic outreach, while only one in five–21%–oppose it.

It also comes as former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) intelligence chief Amos Yadlin urged Netanyahu to face facts of his own, and recognize that even an imperfect Iran nuclear agreement is better than the status quo.

“Iran may well reject the Prime Minister’s demands (zero enrichment, removal of all the enriched material from Iran, the suspension of activity at the underground facility in Fordow and the reactor at Arak),” Yadlin wrote in a memo published Sunday (Sept. 29) by the Israeli think tank he now heads, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) . “Nonetheless it is important to define an agreement that even if containing a certain risk that Iran could break out to military nuclear capability either under or in violation of the deal, still represents a significantly smaller threat than the dangers inherent in the status quo, which is likely leading to an Iranian bomb or to a military move to forestall it.”

Yadlin also suggested that there were signs in the statements made by American and Iranian leaders last week–including in Obama himself announcing his phone call with Iran’s Rouhani from the White House Friday–that there had been coordination on the the broad terms for a potential deal worked out in advance.

“Anyone examining the statements made by the US and Iranian Presidents could justifiably assume that there was prior coordination in the terms used about the principles of an expected agreement,” Yadlin wrote. “On the one hand, Iran’s right to develop sources of nuclear energy, and on the other hand, transparency and verification as well as ‘significant steps’ that have not been specified by either side.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday, said he thought an Iran nuclear deal could be reached quickly, even in less than three to six months, if Iran is seriously prepared to make a reasonable deal.

“If it is a peaceful program, and we can all see that – the whole world sees that – the relationship with Iran can change dramatically for the better and it can change fast,” Kerry said.

“If the United States is ready to recognize Iran’s rights, to respect Iran’s rights and move from that perspective, then we have a real chance,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos Sunday.

Zarif is due to meet negotiators from the P5+1–the US, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–in Geneva October 15-16 to lay out a more detailed proposal for resolving the nuclear issue within a year, beginning with a first step confidence building proposal.

(Top photo: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama meet with their advisors at the White House Monday, by the Israeli embassy. Second photo: Netanyahu shakes hands with President Obama at the White House Monday, by the Associated Press. Cartoon of Netanyahu arriving at the UN amid signs of a party by Haaretz.)

Netanyahu aimed to provoke confrontation amid 2010 US peace push


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not planning to launch an all-out attack on Iran in 2010, before he was blocked by his national security chiefs, as has recently been reported in Israel. Rather, Netanyahu, together with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, was intending to provoke an attack that would potentially trigger a chain of events that would draw the United States towards confrontation with Iran, Yossi Melman reports on the front page:

The truth is that Netanyahu and Barak did not order the military to plan a direct, all-out attack on Iran. Their true intention was to trigger a chain of events which would create tension and provoke Iran, and eventually could have led to a war that might drag in the United States.

Israeli censors, notably, have blocked Israeli media from reporting when in 2010 the episode occurred. But sources told Al Monitor this week that the events occurred in mid-2010. Specifically, in September, 2010. (Update:The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, responding to a contact on Facebook, says she was reliably told the incident was in late 2010. But a source told Al-Monitor the incident occurred in September, adding “it would be out of the question late 2010 because Dagan”–Israel’s then Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who played a key role in thwarting the plan–“left office in December 2010.” Rudoren later told me ‘late 2010’ could include September in her understanding.)

The Netanyahu and Barak “push to put forces on alert was not confined to one meeting,” Melman writes. “They raised it repeatedly on numerous occasions.”

In the summer of 2010, President Obama was meeting separately with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, as he geared up for a major re-launch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in September. Those peace talks–announced with great fanfare at the White House in early September–collapsed just a few weeks later, when Israel refused to extend a partial West Bank settlement freeze. They have never resumed. Continue reading

Sunday funnies: ‘OK, who leaked our nuclear bomb design to Netanyahu?’

Brilliant, by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rob Rogers:

Cartoonist Rogers writes on his blog: “Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of the United Nations last week and drew a red line on a cartoon bomb as he made a point about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Apparently, Israeli’s top secret intelligence comes from a Warner Brothers cartoon.”

(And for a smart take on decoding the numbers referenced in Bibi’s UN presentation, see this.)

(h/t Ron Kampeas, who tweets @kampeas)

No Bibi-Obama meeting in New York; White House says scheduling, not snub

The White House has cited a scheduling conflict for declining an Israeli request for a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Obama when both leaders travel to New York later this month.

The two leaders are “simply not in the city at the same time,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told journalists Tuesday.

“The President arrives in New York for the UN on Monday, September 24th and departs on Tuesday, September 25th,” Vietor explained. “The Prime Minister doesn’t arrive in New York until later in the week.”

“But the President and PM are in frequent contact and the PM will meet with other senior officials, including Secretary Clinton, during his visit,” Vietor added.

An Israeli official told Israeli daily Haaretz, which first reported that there would be no Obama-Netanyahu meeting, that Netanyahu’s office had indicated he would be willing to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with Obama, but that request had also been turned down, Barak Ravid reported.

However, the White House said Tuesday that is false.

“Contrary to previous press reports, there was never any request for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President in Washington, nor was this request ever denied,” the NSC’s Vietor said.

The White House does not anticipate that Obama will hold any bilateral meetings with foreign leaders in New York, Vietor told Al-Monitor.

Apparently the US informed several countries in recent days that Obama would not be holding bilaterals with foreign leaders in New York, but Israeli officials were the only ones to go to the press to raise an outcry, a US official told Al-Monitor.

A former Israeli official also cautioned that it’s possible the Israeli side is hyping the matter to portray Obama as chilly towards the Israeli leader during the US presidential election campaign.

However, the White House did not seem to go out of its way to entirely dispel the impression that it has grown weary of having to deal with endless whispering capaigns, tirades, misinformation, and meltdowns from Jerusalem.

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu unleashed a harsh denunciation of world leaders for urging Israeli restraint on military action on Iran. His broadside followed remarks by Clinton Sunday that  “we’re not setting deadlines” for Iran diplomacy.

“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu said at a press conference in Jerusalem Tuesday.

Last month, at a closed-door meeting with a US lawmaker and US ambassador, Netanyahu unleashed the most “agitated …very sharp” exchange that the lawmaker, House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers, said he has ever seen by a foreign leader.

Netanyahu is currently scheduled to arrive in the US on Sept. 27th and to address the UN General Assembly Sept. 28th.

(Photo: Reuters)

Lawmaker recounts Bibi tirade: Never seen such ‘agitated…sharp exchange’

House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) confirmed in an interview with Michigan radio station WJR that he witnessed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going off on a tirade against the US administration at a meeting he attended with US ambassador Dan Shapiro last month, The Atlantic‘s Jeff Goldberg notes:

…Rogers, speaking to WJR radio host Frank Beckmann, painted a very different picture. He said the meeting, originally scheduled to be a discussion of intelligence and technical issues between himself and the prime minister, spun out of control when Netanyahu began lambasting Shapiro over the Administration’s Iran policy. When Beckmann asked Rogers to describe the tenor of the meeting, he said: “Very tense. Some very sharp… exchanges and it was very, very clear the Israelis had lost their patience with the (Obama) Administration.” He went on, “There was no doubt. You could not walk out of that meeting and think that they had not lost their patience with this Administration.” Continue reading

Israeli paper reports on blow-up between Bibi Netanyahu, US envoy: “Sparks flew”

Shimon Shifffer, writing at Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth Friday, reports on an alleged recent heated exchange between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

According to Shiffer, the “debate not diplomatic” occurred at a meeting last week when Shapiro accompanied visiting House Intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) to a meeting with Netanyahu:

 Netanyahu, according to a source who took part in the meeting, was irritable and very tense.  At the start of the meeting, he leveled a sharp attack on the Obama administration, which he said was not doing enough on the Iranian issue.  “Instead of effectively pressuring Iran, Obama and his associates are pressuring us not to attack the nuclear facilities,” he said, and went on to criticize the administration’s declarations that there was still room for diplomacy.  “Time has run out,” he said firmly.

At a certain point, an unusual event took place in the office …Ambassador Shapiro, who was appointed by President Obama and for years was one of his closest advisers, decided that he was fed up. …He asked permission to speak and replied to Netanyahu in a polite manner—but one that left no room for doubt.

The ambassador, in effect, accused Netanyahu of distorting Obama’s position.  He quoted the president, who had promised that he would not let there be a nuclear Iran and said that all options, including a military strike, were on the table. […]

Political sources who witnessed the event said that “sparks flew” in the room, and that the verbal exchange became progressively sharper.  Netanyahu charged, Shapiro replied—and so on and so forth, with Rogers observing, stunned, from the sidelines.  The meeting finally ended with a harsh atmosphere in the room. …

Susan Phalen, a spokeswoman for Rogers, contacted by Al-Monitor, declined to comment on the report, confirming only that Rogers was in Israel and met with Netanyahu.

Amb. Shapiro himself referenced Rep. Rogers’ visit to Israel on his Facebook page August 24th. “My thanks to Congressman Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for an important visit to Israel to advance cooperation between our countries on critical security matters,” Shapiro wrote.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the report, except to reiterate the United States’ “rock solid support for Israeli security” and “unbreakable bond” with Israel and the Israeli people.

The suggestion of a raised-voice argument by the US envoy is an exaggeration, a source who asked not to be identified said.

(Photo: Screen shot of Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth page 2 report August 31, 2012 on alleged confrontation between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, US ambassador Dan Shapiro at a meeting last month. Al-Monitor.)

Feldman: Case closed-for now-on Israel Iran strike?


Israel scholar Shai Feldman pronounces the Israeli debate on attacking Iran over. The two chief proponents of Israeli action, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “did not bluff, but they were defeated”–at least for now, Feldman, a scholar at Brandeis and Harvard’s Belfer Center, writes at Foreign Policy’s Mideast Channel:

For all practical purposes this weekend ended the Israeli debate on attacking Iran. What tipped the scales were two developments. The first was the decision of the country’s president, Shimon Peres, to make his opposition to a military strike public. The second was an interview given by a former key defense advisor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, questioning for the first time publically whether his former superior and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are fit to lead Israel in time of war.[…]

Contrary to what many think, Netanyahu and Barak … did not bluff, but they were defeated. With President Peres publicly joining the many formidable opponents of a military strike and General Sagi raising questions about the competence of Israel’s current leaders, Israel now lacks the minimal consensus required for a demanding military campaign to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. The debate has been settled. At least for now.

But two veteran Israeli analysts said they were not convinced the debate is over at all.

“While Shimon Peres’ statement was of extraordinary importance, the logic underlining Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak’s rationale remains intact,” former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas told Al Monitor Monday by email.

“They are convinced that the ‘timetable gap’ that exists between the US and Israel will not change,” Pinkas continued. “The one game-changer that is still available are US assurances pertaining to a US military strike sometime around spring 2013, if all else fails.”

“No. I don’t think it’s over,” Israeli national security correspondent Yossi Melman told Al Monitor by email. Melman, co-author of a new book on Israeli espionage, Spies Against Armaggedon, noted that Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror on Monday briefed Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, on Iran. The briefing was seen as an effort to try to sway Shas’ two cabinet ministers in favor of possible Israeli action on Iran.

“So it’s far from over,” Melman said. “I still think Israel will [probably] not attack before [the US] elections, but …. Netanyahu and Barak seem to be still very determined.”

(Photo: Israeli President Shimon Peres meets with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Presidential Palace in Jerusalem August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool)

Israel not ‘merely bluffing’ on Iran strike threat, ex-Obama official says


A former senior Pentagon official says Israel is probably not bluffing in its latest saber rattling on Iran.

“I think it is more likely Israeli leaders are preparing the Israeli public for a strike, and creating a narrative for the international community that diplomacy and sanctions have failed and thus Israel has no choice,” Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East from 2009 to 2011, told Al Monitor Tuesday in an interview on the front page.

“There is clearly a crescendo emerging, and there is a lot of detailed, point-by-point argumentation …laying the foundation for a potential strike,” Kahl said. .”

The Pentagon said Tuesday Israel has not made a decision yet on possible Iran action.

“I don’t believe they’ve made a decision as to whether or not they will go in and attack Iran at this time,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told journalists at the Pentagon Tuesday, Reuters reported. “With regards to the issue of where we’re at from a diplomatic point of view, the reality is that we still think there is room to continue to negotiate.”

But Israeli leaders are preparing the Israel public for a possible attack on Iran in September-October.

Tel Aviv designated 60 parking garages as bomb shelters Wednesday, amid defensive preparations for possible counterattacks, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.

Israel appointed a new homeland defense chief Tuesday. Ex-Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter was unanimously approved by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s cabinet in a Tuesday night vote. Dichter was formerly a professional soldier in the elite Israeli commando unit,the Sayeret Matkal, with Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Dichter now holds the key ninth vote in previously reportedly evenly divided ‘Octet’ that will vote if it comes to it on the action.

“Despite Obama’s existing promises to use all means, including military action, to prevent an Iranian bomb, I think Netanyahu and Barak have convinced themselves that they cannot sub-contract out their security on this issue to any US president,” Kahl said.

“At the end of the day, the Israeli leadership is building the case that they can trust no one but themselves on this issue,” he added. Continue reading