President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke briefly to the press before their meeting at the White House today. The points they each chose to emphasize were telling and provide insight into their mindsets going into the high-pressure Iran discussion.
Obama spoke first, and stressed the bond between Israel and the U.S., as well as its close military coordination.
I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action. And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation. I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented. And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.
While the military cooperation between the two countries does remain close, there have been more communication breakdowns in recent months than the president chose to acknowledge. Israel has declined to share specifics about when it would strike Iran, and the U.S. has withheld sensitive intelligence information that would assist Israel’s covert sabotage campaign, The Daily Beast reported last month.
But Obama is obviously trying to repair – or at least publicly downplay – the trust deficit between his administration and Netanyahu’s.
Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister spoke about the unbreakable U.S.-Israeli relationship, without specifically mentioning the military partnership. He indicated that Israel would not ask Obama’s permission if it decides to use force against Iran’s nuclear program. And he reiterated that Israel reserves the right to defend itself, even if it’s done unilaterally:
I think that above and beyond that are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech — that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions. I believe that’s why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.
And after all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state — to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny. And that’s why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.
Based on these comments, it doesn’t sound like either leader is willing to cede his current position. Obama still expects Israel to cooperate with the U.S. timeline on Iran, and Netanyahu is clearly committed to taking action with or without the U.S.