Ne­tanyahu ap­pre­hen­sive but open Warns pres­i­dent not to be fooled by Iran, but shows sup­port for non­mil­i­tary plan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu warned the U.S. last week not to be fooled by Iran’s re­cent open­ness to­ward ne­go­ti­a­tions with the West, but he also sug­gested for the first time that Is­rael could back a deal in which Iran pro­ceeds with a nu­clear pro­gram — as long as the pro­gram is not mil­i­ta­rized.

“For Is­rael, the ul­ti­mate test of a fu­ture agree­ment with Iran is whether or not Iran dis­man­tles its mil­i­tary nu­clear pro­gram,” said Mr. Ne­tanyahu, who ap­peared with Pres­i­dent Obama at the White House and also held talks last Mon­day with Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den and Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu, who de­liv­ered a speech fo­cused heav­ily on Iran at the United Na­tions on Tues­day, re­peated the ref­er­ence to Iran’s “mil­i­tary nu­clear pro­gram” on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions Mon­day. The pre­cise lan­guage sig­naled a sub­tle shift in the rhetoric from Mr. Ne­tanyahu, who has been less spe­cific dur­ing past speeches — of­ten sug­gest­ing Is­rael could ac­cept noth­ing less than a to­tal shut­down of all nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties in Iran.

That Mr. Ne­tanyahu ap­peared sud­denly to be bend­ing to­ward such a con­ces­sion last week may be tied to at­tempts by Ira­nian lead­ers over the past week to make in­ter­na­tional head­lines by draw­ing at­ten­tion to the fact that Is­rael — un­like Iran — has never signed the nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty.

New Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Hasan Rouhani sought to am­plify that last week dur­ing his push for a new era of diplo­macy be­tween Iran and the West. Claim­ing dur­ing a speech be­fore the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly that Iran supports the es­tab­lish­ment of a “nu­clear-free zone,” Mr. Rouhani pointed out that Is­rael re­mains the only na­tion in the Mid­dle East that has not signed the treaty.

“Is­rael has 200 nu­clear war­heads” and “is the source of in­se­cu­rity in our re­gion,” Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif claimed dur­ing an in­ter­view last Sun­day on ABC’s “This Week,” the first ap­pear­ance on the show in nearly three decades by such a high­level Ira­nian of­fi­cial.

Mr. Obama ap­peared ea­ger to pa­per over any per­cep­tion that the po­ten­tial thaw with Iran might ex­pose cre­ate dif­fi­cul­ties for the tight U.S.-Is­rael al­liance. He also set out to con­vince Mr. Ne­tanyahu that the White House re­mains “clear-eyed” about the po­ten­tial threat be­ing posed to the world by Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

“We have to test diplo­macy,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to see if, in fact, they are se­ri­ous about their will­ing­ness to abide by in­ter­na­tional norms and in­ter­na­tional law and in­ter­na­tional re­quire­ments and res­o­lu­tions.”

Those re­marks fol­lowed a whirl­wind week of diplo­matic flir­ta­tion be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tehran that was capped Fri­day by a per­sonal tele­phone call from Mr. Obama to Mr. Rouhani. Mr. Obama’s re­cent and sud­den pur­suit of diplo­macy with Tehran had ap­peared to ran­kle Mr. Ne­tanyahu.

Head­ing into the meet­ing at the White House, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter had told re­porters that he was on a mis­sion to “tell the truth in the face of the sweet-talk and on­slaught of smiles.” He ap­peared to keep his word Mon­day, say­ing — with Mr. Obama at his side — that “Iran is com­mit­ted to Is­rael’s de­struc­tion.”

The rea­son for Iran’s sud­den open­ness for ne­go­ti­a­tion on the is­sue of its nu­clear pro­gram, Mr. Ne­tanyahu said, is that the West has kept up “the com­bi­na­tion of a cred­i­ble mil­i­tary threat” cou­pled with by a harsh cam­paign of eco­nomic sanc­tions that have hurt the Ira­nian econ­omy.

“If diplo­macy is to work, those pres­sures must be kept in place,” he said.

Last year, Mr. Ne­tanyahu de­liv­ered a the­atri­cal speech to the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly dur­ing which he used a red marker and large white plac­ard with a bomb drawn on it to em­pha­size his fear that Iran was dan­ger­ously close to ob­tain­ing a nu­clear weapon. But on Mon­day, as he stood be­side Mr. Obama at the White House, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter sug­gested the ul­ti­mate goal­post for what Is­rael can tol­er­ate from Iran on the nu­clear front may have soft­ened.

“We have a say­ing in He­brew, we call it ‘mivchan ha­totza’a.’ You would say it in English, ‘What’s the bot­tom line?’” Mr. Ne­tanyahu said. “And the bot­tom line, again, is that Iran fully dis­man­tles its mil­i­tary nu­clear pro­gram.”

For­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts said Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s re­marks could be read in a few ways. “I think that Ne­tanyahu is walk­ing a fine line be­tween want­ing to em­pha­size that there is rea­son to be skep­ti­cal, but also not look like he’s dis­miss­ing the en­tire diplo­matic process and there­fore in­sis­tent on mak­ing war,” said Khaled El­gindy, a fel­low at the Sa­ban Center for Mid­dle East Pol­icy at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

“He doesn’t want to be the guy who’s seen as just gun­ning for war,” said Mr. El­gindy, who noted that Mr. Ne­tanyahu likely is acutely aware of the Amer­i­can pub­lic’s lim­ited ap­petite for Mid­dle East­ern wars.

Three-quar­ters of Amer­i­cans say they fa­vor di­rect diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions with Tehran in an at­tempt to pre­vent that coun­try from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons, ac­cord­ing to a CNN/ORC In­ter­na­tional sur­vey re­leased last week.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Be­fore speak­ing Tues­day at the United Na­tions (left), Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu met with Pres­i­dent Obama to dis­cuss the coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram.

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