Coming Up: The Definitive Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Ari Shavit argues that the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the beginning of March in Washington will be decisive: Israel will, or will not, launch a unilateral strike against Iran based on the outcome of this meeting. The only meaningful variable: Whether or not Netanyahu believes Obama when the president says he will stop Iran from going nuclear. It's been my impression that Obama has made it clear that he will stop Iran from going nuclear, but it's become apparent that Netanyahu doesn't hear Obama the same way. Here's Ari:

As of now, the military option is proving to be a diplomatic success. It managed to shake the international community out of its apathy and made a definitive contribution to the tightening of the diplomatic and economic siege on Iran.

But the time for playing diplomatic games with the military option is drawing to a close. There's a limit to how many times one can cry wolf. There's a point at which a "hold-me-back" policy exhausts itself. And that's a very dangerous point, because suddenly the military option turns into a real option.

The Netanyahu-Obama meeting in two weeks will be definitive. If the U.S. president wants to prevent a disaster, he must give Netanyahu iron-clad guarantees that the United States will stop Iran in any way necessary and at any price, after the 2012 elections. If Obama doesn't do this, he will obligate Netanyahu to act before the 2012 elections.

The moral responsibility for what may happen does not lie with the heirs of Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion. The moral responsibility will be borne by the man sitting in the chair that was once Franklin Roosevelt's.

I'm not sure I agree with that last bit. Israel is the country ultimately responsible for Israel's security. If the President of the United States decides that it is not in his country's best interest to intervene militarily against Iran in the near future, I don't see how he has failed Israel morally. Obviously, I believe that it is in America's best interest to stop Iran, and I believe in a strong Israeli-American relationship. But a) there is still plenty of time for America to pursue a military option; and b) there is no treaty that commits America to protect Israel, and there is certainly no treaty that commits America to protect Israel from a latent threat, rather than an actual, current attack (And a small digression: Isn't it Europe, and Germany in particular, that should be considered to have greater moral responsibility here? Israel exists mainly because of European moral failure).

Again, I obviously believe, for reasons having to do with Israel, and reasons having nothing to do with Israel, that America should continue to confront the illegitimate regime ruling Iran. America has a strong interest in preventing nuclear proliferation; in preventing its main Middle East adversary from becoming stronger than it already is; and in defending its allies (and not only Israel -- the Arab states that are threatened by Iran are getting a hell of a free ride here, having Netanyahu make the anti-Iran argument for them). But Iran does not pose an existential threat to the U.S. If a prime minister of Israel decides that Iran poses an existential threat to his country, then he should act. I think a strike on Iran now by Israel could be disastrous, so I hope he doesn't do it, but Israel's security is ultimately his responsibility, not Obama's. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/02/coming-up-the-definitive-obama-netanyahu-meeting/253497/