“Words alone will not stop Iran,” Netanyahu said, addressing the AIPAC conference via satellite. “Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.”
“Netanyahu is trying to trap him into a commitment to intervene on Netanyahu’s terms, and the president of the United States doesn’t want to be told by the prime minister when to intervene,” said Daniel Serwer, senior research professor of conflict management at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and former director of the Iraq Study Group, convened by Congress to examine the country’s postwar needs.
Obama told nearly two dozen Jewish American leaders Thursday that he won’t be going to Israel with a “grand peace plan,” though he didn’t rule out a new effort at some point.
He made it clear that he doesn’t believe in “extra chest beating” when it comes to Iran and he’s convinced there’s still time for diplomacy, Israeli news outlets reported on the White House meeting.
The president told the group that the trip “is not dedicated to resolving a specific policy issue, but is rather an opportunity to consult with the Israeli government about a broad range of issues,” including Iran, Syria and peace with the Palestinians, a White House official said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity as a matter of administration policy. Obama also underscored that the trip is an opportunity for him to speak directly to Israelis, the official said.
Regarding Syria, the U.S. has warned President Bashar Assad that it views the use of chemical weapons against the rebels who are trying to overthrow him as a “red line” for possible military intervention. The administration has declined to send weapons or any lethal aid to the rebels, instead delivering food and medicine.
Israel’s threshold for taking action – as illustrated earlier this year with an airstrike on Syria – appears to be lower, and aimed at a wider variety of possible threats.
Syria is awash in arms, and Netanyahu warned that its stash of chemical and anti-aircraft weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and al Qaida as the regime collapses.
The emphasis on Iran and Syria reflects Netanyahu’s contention that Israel can’t pursue peace talks with the Palestinians without addressing the risks posed by its neighbors. Obama is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank, but analysts note that Palestinians are deflated by the prospect of peace negotiations being downplayed.
Palestinian “leadership has higher expectations. They really have no choice but to cling to some hope Obama can deliver. But on the street I don’t think anyone expects anything,” said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators who’s a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a research center in Washington. “As long as there isn’t an open front in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it just seems like it’s something that can wait. The moment isn’t now.”