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As Netanyahu’s plane crossed the vast distance of the Atlantic Ocean, he must have thought that the oceanic gap was small compared to the diplomatic gap with the Obama administration. This time around there were no visible hostilities or outbursts. With an election coming up, Obama is less eager to humiliate Netanyahu, and Netanyahu does not seriously expect that a passionate appeal will get through to Obama.
Both men know the nature of the game they are playing, but neither of them expects much of the other.
Netanyahu does not believe that he can get Obama to set a firm “red line” that will trigger military action. For all the talk about “having Israel’s back”, the administration has not been willing to set such a “red line” in public or private, which makes all the assurances completely worthless. Without that “red line”, no actual commitments have been made, except a commitment to the Sisyphean diplomatic track.
And so Netanyahu has not bothered to seriously push for a “red line.” Any possibility of such a thing was off the table even before he arrived.
For his part Obama does not appear to believe that he can dissuade Netanyahu from carrying out a strike against Iran’s nuclear program with more talk of sanctions. The rhetoric that goes over well with Jeffrey Goldberg falls flat in the real world. The sanctions aren’t there to stop Iran; they’re there to stop Israel from doing something about Iran.
The sanctions are busywork and both leaders know it. Obama has sharpened his rhetoric, uneasily mentioning military action, while at the same time warning that talk of military action only helps Iran. His target audience for this sophistry isn’t the man sitting opposite him with a degree from MIT who has already dealt with him enough times not to believe a word he says, it’s the waffling American Jews who are uneasy about him.
For Obama the priority right now is transitioning Assad out of power in Syria. An Israeli strike on Iran would disrupt the Muslim coalition that can make that happen, and that is one of the few honest talking points to come out of the administration and its allied think tanks. But the larger priority is winning the election.
Obama and Netanyahu are both capable of undermining each other’s goals. Obama doesn’t need a political battle with the Jewish community in an election year. That can wait until he wins reelection. Netanyahu does not need Obama sabotaging an Israeli operation against Iran, but the recent leaks suggest that this administration may be willing to do just that.
Netanyahu’s return to AIPAC came down to mobilizing support for an Israeli strike on Iran. Obama’s appearance at AIPAC was aimed at making such a strike seem dangerous and unnecessary. While Netanyahu laid out a case for war that carefully took on and dismantled the talking points being put out by Obama’s own brain trust at the Center for American Progress, Obama kept trying to sell the same old diplomatic route to Tehran. A route which has worked about as well as the one to the Taliban.
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