Benjamin Netanyahu may have pulled off quite a feat in striking a Likud-Labor alliance, but don’t think that he’s completely mellowed. Before he took the oath of office as Prime Minister, Bibi told Barack Obama that the US had two missions — fixing the economy and preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Netanyahu also warned Obama that Israel would accomplish the second mission if the new President wasn’t up to the task:
The primary imperative for the United States and President Barack Obama is to put an end to Iran’s nuclear race, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said before his swearing-in Tuesday, adding that if the US failed to do so Israel might be forced to resort to a military strike on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear installations.
“The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told The Atlantic. The Iranian drive for a nuclear weapon was a “hinge of history,” he said, emphasizing that all of “Western civilization” was responsible for preventing an Iranian bomb. …
Netanyahu suggested that Israeli preemptive strikes against perceived threats were the result of the Jewish people learning from a long history of grappling against those who threatened their collective existence. He cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls to “wipe Israel off the map,” as well as a recent remark by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to the effect that Israel was a “cancerous tumor.”
The new relationship between Israel and the US has already gotten off to a rocky start, and that can be seen in the difference between priorities. Notice that Netanyahu doesn’t mention the establishment of a Palestinian state as one of Obama’s missions. Netanyahu may have softened on that issue, but not to the point where he’s become misguided as to the real existential threat to Israel. The Palestinians are a problem that requires management, but do not by themselves pose a threat of annihilation to Israel. A nuclear-armed Iran does.
Obama wants to open a dialogue with Iran, but Netanyahu seems very skeptical about the possibilities for success along those lines. He declared himself pessimistic that dialogue alone would have any effect, but thought tougher economic sanctions had a chance. However, Netanyahu also pointed out what should be obvious — that Iranian theocrats don’t always act in pragmatic self-interest. That makes them more dangerous than any other nuclear power, he argued, because of the strong streak of millenialism in Tehran. Once they had the bomb, they might act rationally — but how could we trust them to do so?
It sounds as though Israel will only give a very short window for the US to take effective action before Netanyahu acts on his own. If he does so, it will put Obama on the spot; will he back the traditional American ally, or will he side with the country that hid its nuclear program for years and supports international terror through Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iraqi insurgents? Either way, an Israeli action will make Obama look impotent on the world stage. Netanyahu is clearly sending a signal for Obama to avoid looking emasculated.