Did Netanyahu come out of the talks on top? Not yet

By Uri Dromi, March 8, 2012
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If I were a fly on the wall in the Oval Office when president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu closed the door behind them to talk tachlis, I guess that the following happened.

Mr Netanyahu, who has a record of domineering meetings of heads of states (ask Tony Blair), probably started by giving Mr Obama a "we told you so" speech. Indeed, the late Yitzhak Rabin warned about a nuclear Iran as early as 1993, and the world was slow to believe subsequent Israeli leaders when they warned against arming the ayatollahs with nukes.

Then, I guess, Mr Netanyahu might have told the US President that the Iranians have been cunningly bluffing the world, dodging the sanctions and rushing to go nuclear, and that action must be taken now, before it's too late.

Up until that moment, I imagine, Mr Obama would have nodded. It is the habit of Israelis to interpret Anglo-Saxon courtesy as agreeing with everything they say. I'm sure Mr Obama reiterated his promise that "a nuclear Iran is not acceptable". However, if by "action" Mr Netanyahu meant a military attack, Mr Obama, just licking the wounds of Iraq and Afghanistan, and hoping to be re-elected, interprets "action" differently: a variety of measures, including firmer sanctions, maybe a naval blockade and military action only as a very last resort.

Mr Netanyahu went straight to the standing ovations of Aipac. Did he go there as a victor? Surely he convinced the US President that Israel is serious. But did he get a green light for an independent Israeli move? Or did he get a firm pledge that America will attack? My gut feeling is that on both issues Mr Obama remained vague.

While the Aipac crowd loved Netanyahu's speech, with its reference to the Holocaust, back home Israelis are not so keen. People here have in their minds Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, who, upon retiring, embarked on a crusade to stop Israeli warmongering over Iran.

That Israel should always count on itself goes without saying. This doesn't mean that it should rush to action at all costs. But if Netanyahu backs down from his Churchillian speeches, Israelis will not hold it against him.

Last updated: 1:23pm, March 8 2012