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Photo: AP
Ron Ben-Yishai
Red lines still far apart
Analysis: Obama, Netanyahu still at odds over Iran, but both agree Syrian WMDs must not fall into terrorists' hands

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama's joint press conference gave us a pretty clear picture of what Israel and the US agree and disagree about. It seems that the Israeli premier and the American president were unable to resolve their differences on the issue of when military force will be required to stop Iran's advancement toward a nuclear bomb.

 

The red lines of both leaders are still far apart, and Netanyahu went as far as hinting that if the Americans will not do it – Israel will. The PM also indicated that as far as Israel is concerned the hour is fast approaching and it cannot give sanctions and diplomatic efforts another year to succeed.

 

Obama tried to soften the impression that there are disagreements on the Iranian issue by stating that the US aid for the production and purchase of additional Iron Dome batteries would not be hurt and even offered a big present: He announced that the US would begin talks with Israel with the goal of reaching an agreement on 10 years of US military aid to Israel, when the current "aid package" expires in 2017.

 

Obama is trying to convince Israel that it should continue to coordinate its moves with the US rather than act alone against the Iranians. Ultimately, both countries have a similar goal. What remains unclear is whether the American president accepted Israel's demand that Washington show it is determined to resort to the military option should the negotiations and sanctions fail to stop Iran's nuclear program. This, Israel believes, will grant credibility to the negotiations between the world powers and Iran. Obama apparently refused to commit, but it appears he promised Netanyahu that the sanctions would be tightened.

 

As for the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu went one step further for Obama when he explicitly said Israel remains committed to the two-state solution. However, Obama continued to lower expectations. Apparently he does not want the Palestinians to have overly high expectations that will end in disappointment, because disappointment leads to violence.

 

Despite his low expectations regarding the resumption of peace negotiations, Obama's remarks during his visit made it clear he wants Israel to make gestures that will stabilize the Palestinian Authority – economically and with regards to the quality of life of the Palestinians in the West Bank. However, Israel and the US are still at odds over the Palestinian issue and it does not appear any progress was made during the talks between Netanyahu and Obama.

 

As for Syria, the US president stuttered and made excuses, but he explained quite firmly that the US is not the world's police and will not do the job alone – only in the framework of broad international agreement. He was clearly alluding to the Washington's disagreement with Russia and China vis-à-vis Syria. Obama does not want the US to get involved in another ethnic and tribal war, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why he is refraining from taking action to stop the bloodshed in Syria, although this would probably be the moral thing to do.

 

Obama hinted that the bloodshed would not stop even if the US and the world would intervene – and it may even intensify. There are no disagreements between Obama and Netanyahu on this matter, just as there are no disagreements between them regarding the need to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the need to prevent al-Qaeda or Hezbollah-linked terrorists from getting their hands on chemical weapons. While the US president did not say Israel has a green light to attack arms convoys from Syria to Lebanon, it is safe to assume that Israel does have the yellow light from the US to do whatever is necessary to prevent the transfer of advanced and strategic weapons to Hezbollah.

 

 

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