Israel and US set for crisis talks on Iran

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 1, 2012
It's a date: Bibi and Obama

It's a date: Bibi and Obama

All three of Israel's most senior leaders are visiting the United States in attempt to reach an understanding with the Obama administration over a possible strike on Iran's nuclear programme.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak conferred this week with the heads of the Pentagon while President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will both meet President Barack Obama.

The flurry of diplomatic activity between Washington and Jerusalem has seen visits to Israel by the entire American security hierarchy this year, including Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Martin Dempsey, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. At the same time, senior Israeli security officials including Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and Military Intelligence Commander Major General Aviv Kochavi have been to Washington, while this is Mr Barak's second visit to Washington in 2012.

The Americans have been trying to convince Israel that the international pressure and new sanctions on Iran may still succeed in forcing Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and that there is still time for diplomacy before launching a strike. The Israeli refusal to give the administration advance warning of such a strike has further convinced the Americans that Israel is close to acting.

In his meeting with President Obama, Mr Netanyahu is planning to demand that the US set a "red line", and publicly explain what it is prepared to do to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli position, while insisting that the Iranian threat is more urgent than the Americans believe, is hardly cohesive.

While Mr Barak is of the opinion that Israel has a very short window of opportunity and must act before Iran moves most of its uranium-enrichment infrastructure into the fortified underground plant near Qom, President Peres believes that Israel should not carry out a strike. Mr Peres, who 30 years ago was also opposed to Prime Minister Menachem Begin's decision to bomb the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor, believes that any military strike should be carried out by the US and other Western countries, not by Israel.

Mr Netanyahu is somewhere in between, though he believes the diplomatic pressure on Iran will fail and that the Americans will not act unless Israel makes it clear that it will attack Iran if no-one else does.

Last Thursday, Mr Peres sought to play down reports of a discord within the Israeli leadership in a speech to the annual Jerusalem meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations. In a rare mention of the Iranian danger, he said: "The state of Israel is a sovereign one and it has the right and the ability to defend itself from every threat. When we say all options are on the table, we mean it. A nuclear Iran is a strategic threat not only for Israel but for the entire world. Iran is a centre of moral corruption and world terror."

Last updated: 3:25pm, March 1 2012