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Yet the issue runs deeper than differing strategic assessments. Because of its geographical proximity, Israel considers Iran an existential threat and not simply a troublesome rogue state. It’s not just that Iran has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction. The more serious issue is that, with it’s backing for Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as it’s arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles within striking range of Israel, Iran is already waging the war of destruction it has long threatened. That reality is all too clear in Israel. A strategic study released this week by Bar Ilan University points out that Iran’s nuclear ambitions, combined with the fall of Arab states and the rise of Islamic revolutionary regimes, has created a “deteriorating security environment for Israel.” Clearly, Israel feels it needs to act — and soon.
That is not to say that there is no room for common ground on Iran. The Obama administration has indicated that it might be amenable to Israeli appeals for a more urgent and forceful response. Thus, ahead of Netanyahu’s arrival, the administration has been sending signals that it could still endorse a military solution to Iran’s nuclear program. For instance, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz said this week that the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff have prepared military options for a strike against Iran’s nuclear sites. So that there was no mistaking the message to Tehran, Schwartz added: “What we can do, you wouldn’t want to be in the area.”
If that is indeed a sign that the U.S. is prepared to consider military options, it would be welcome news for Netanyahu. Polls suggest that the Israeli public is reluctant to undertake a strike against Iran without U.S. support. To that end, firmer backing from the White House would provide much-needed reassurance that even if the U.S. won’t officially sanction an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear sites, it is at least open to the possibility. Given Netanyahu and Obama’s apparent personal dislike for one another, Monday’s meeting may not be a happy reunion. But with so much at stake for Israeli and U.S. security, there is hope that it may still prove a productive one.
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