In an interview on “60 Minutes” this past Sunday, President Obama was asked about his very public spat with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the latter’s call for the U.S. to set “red lines” for Iran’s nuclear advance which, if crossed, would trigger an American military response coordinated with Israel and perhaps others.
As we noted last week, the president has for many months cautioned the prime minister not to take unilateral action against Iran but to wait for economic sanctions to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear plans. Mr. Obama insists that Israel can rely on a U.S. commitment to act should sanctions fail to deter the Iranians.
To the question “How much pressure have you been getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu to make up your mind to use military force in Iran?” President Obama responded,
Well – look, I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time. And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon, because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel, and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.
The interviewer, Steve Kroft, followed up with, “You’re saying you don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?”
To which the president responded,
When it comes to our national security decisions – any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.
So for Mr. Obama, however he packages it, Israel’s assessments and importuning are just so much “noise” to be tuned out. To be sure, he says he is sensitive to Israel’s special challenges, but given his admonitions to Israel against unilateral military action until – if ever – he gives them the go-head, it is he who will decide how they will be met and in effect, determine Israel’s future.
But what exactly can he point to that suggests sanctions have moved the Iranians even in the slightest – or that they ever will? Certainly the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never misses an opportunity to boast that Iran will never bow to sanctions. Moreover, barely a day goes by without some senior Iranian official, in addition to repeating the mantra of the impending destruction of Israel, warning the U.S. and Israel of devastating retaliation at the hands of Iranian missiles should Iran be attacked. And this is before they have nuclear weapons.
President Obama seems to be closing his eyes to stark reality. He acknowledges Iran threatens Israel’s destruction. He also says a non-nuclear Iran is vital for American security interests around the world. And it is clear his plan for sanctions has not worked and indeed cannot work. Yet not only does he continue to delay taking forceful action, he stands in the way of Israel’s acting on its own judgments in its own self-defense.
We do not mean to imply that taking military action is an easy decision. But it is the right one when delaying the inevitable will immeasurably add to the cost. At the very least Mr. Obama should get out of Israel’s way.