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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to take a harder line on Iran in next week’s meeting with President Obama in hopes of pressuring the United States into making more decisive pronouncements on its potential responses to Iran’s nuclear development.
Haaretz reports that, according to an unnamed Israeli official, Mr. Netanyahu wants more than the "vague assertion that 'all options are on the table.' " He wants Mr. Obama to publicly state that the US is prepared for a military operation against Iran should the country “cross certain ‘red lines.’ ”
But White House officials say Netanyahu will go home empty-handed. The Los Angeles Times reports that Obama has no intention of making any policy shift toward Iran and that he believes the current US strategy – diplomacy and increasingly strict sanctions – is taking a toll on Iran.
“A more explicit military threat is not helpful,” senior White House officials told The Times. While Washington's red line is Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb, Israel's threshold is lower: Iran merely acquiring the knowledge and industrial means to build a nuclear bomb.
There are several countries who have the capability to build a nuclear weapon but have never tried, it reports, and Pentagon and intelligence officials have said that they do not believe Iran has decided to build a bomb.
Haaretz reports that there is a gaping trust deficit between Netanyahu and Obama, based on the mutual feeling that each is interfering in the other country’s domestic affairs. Netanyahu believes that the US is trying to turn Israeli public opinion against a strike on Iran, while Obama believes Israel is using the US Congress and the Republican presidential candidates to pressure Obama into taking a stronger stance to avoid appearing weak in comparison.
According to Haaretz, when US national security adviser Tom Donilon visited Israel last week, Israeli officials raised the prospect of strengthening US rhetoric on Iran, as did Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak when he was in the US. And the Obama administration became more suspicious after Netanyahu and some of his advisers met with five US senators, including Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, and reportedly complained about officials in the Obama administration who were supporting public discourse that “serves the Iranians.”
The stakes are much higher for Israel, which is within range of Iran's missiles and doesn't have as massive a military deterrent as the US. The New York Times reports that the US expects in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran, Iran will retaliate with missiles against Israel but will temper its actions against the US “so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program.” They expect a series of terrorist-style attacks – perhaps on US troops in Afghanistan or petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf.
“The balance the Iranians will try to strike is doing damage that is sufficiently significant, but just short of what it would take for America to invade,” retired Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Times.
However, US officials also acknowledged that they do not know the internal thinking of Tehran’s leadership and that “in the heat of conflict” their reaction could be erratic and illogical.
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