Israel, U.S. at odds over red line for Syria

Joel Greenberg – Washington Post September 10, 2012

Despite attempts to align their positions on Iran’s nuclear program, Israel and the United States are publicly at odds over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest demand that Washington set clear “red lines” beyond which it would launch a military attack.

Netanyahu reiterated that demand Sunday at the weekly meeting of his cabinet, urging world powers to “set moral and practical red lines for Iran” which he said could stop its “race to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

The call appeared to be rebuffed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who when asked whether Washington would lay out such “red lines” or spell out the consequences for Iran of failing to reach agreement with world powers by a certain date, replied: “We’re not setting deadlines.”

Clinton, who spoke in an interview with Bloomberg Radio on Sunday, added that the United States has “always said every option was on the table, but we believe in the negotiation” coupled with stepped-up sanctions to influence Iran to change course.

“It’s a very challenging effort to get them to move in a way that complies with their international obligations,” Clinton said. “But we believe that is still by far the best approach to take at this time.”

Netanyahu has repeated his demand for an ultimatum to Iran several times in recent days, arguing that only such a firm stance has a chance of swaying Tehran and averting a military confrontation. His position reflects a sense of urgency projected by the Israeli leadership, which views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that time is running out as Iran’s nuclear facilities approach a “zone of immunity,” protected in underground bunkers invulnerable to Israeli attack.

Netanyahu’s demands, which he says are under discussion with Washington, sparked a heated exchange last month between him and Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, according to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who was present and gave his account of the meeting. Rogers said Netanyahu was “at wit’s end” with what the Israeli leader sees as a lack of U.S. resolve to take military action if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Shapiro has denied that there was such an exchange.

Explaining Netanyahu’s stance, a senior Israeli official said that “the prime minister strongly believes that the Iranians have to be given clarity.”

“Only if the Iranians are presented with a crystal clear dilemma, that unless they stop there will be consequences, and those consequences will be grave, do you have any hope of succeeding,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly. “If the Iranians believe they have wiggle room, there will be no change in their behavior.”

Barak said after a meeting last week with Admiral James A. Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that there were “differences” between Washington and Israel and that “the clock is ticking at a different pace for each of us.”

Clinton voiced a similar assessment in the Bloomberg radio interview. “They’re more anxious about a quick response because they feel that they’re right in the bull’s-eye, so to speak,” she said, speaking of the Israelis. “But we’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good-faith negotiation.”

There was no response from Netanyahu’s office to Clinton’s statements, but Dore Gold, a former U.N. ambassador who has advised the prime minister, told Israel Radio that the remarks meant that the United States faced “a serious problem” in stopping Iran because of the lack of a “concrete threat.”

“There are differences in approach here,” he said of the views in Washington and Jerusalem, “and they are deep.”

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