Selim Saheb Ettaba, AFP
Last updated: 4 October, 2013

Netanyahu convinces Israel on Iran but vexes US

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's uncompromising United Nations speech on Iran and its nuclear programme has unified ranks at home but vexed the United States, drawing fire from influential American pundits.

“The world must not be fooled by the Iranian ploy into easing the sanctions,” Netanyahu said Friday upon returning from New York, adding he would be meeting next week with European leaders on Iran’s nuclear programme.

The next talks between world powers and Iran on its controversial nuclear ambitions are due to take place in Geneva on October 15-16.

According to a Friday poll published in pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom, 84 percent of Israelis do not think Iran would halt its nuclear programme.

And 66 percent supported Netanyahu’s statement that Israel would “stand alone” against the Islamic republic if necessary.

In a Friday opinion piece in the Washington Post, David Ignatius drew a parallel with the distrust of Israeli premier Golda Meir toward Egyptian president Anwar Sadat before the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

“As Netanyahu thinks now about Iran, he faces a dilemma similar to what confronted Meir: are peace offers from Israel’s adversaries serious, or simply a cover for belligerent actions?

“One lesson of 1973 is that it’s worth testing through negotiations whether the proposals are real,” he wrote.

Roger Cohen took a harsher tone in the New York Times, where he mocks Netanyahu’s “tired Iranian tropes.”

Netanyahu “needs to stop calling Rouhani ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ his favoured epithet, and start worrying about crying wolf,” writes Cohen.

“Iran has long been an effective distraction from the core dilemma of the Jewish state: Palestine,” he charges.

‘Movable red line’

Immediately after the Israeli premier’s UN speech on Tuesday, the New York Times editorial urged against “sabotaging diplomacy, especially before Iran is tested.”

Israeli daily Maariv said the “attack” came from what is “considered the newspaper used by the White House to convey messages,” while noting Netanyahu had extended his visit to the US to hammer out his argument in the media, including in an interview with the BBC’s Persian service.

US Secretary of State John Kerry assured Israel on Thursday that on Iran, “it’s not words that will make a difference, it’s actions,” but stressed diplomacy must be exhausted before any military option.

The left-leaning daily Haaretz which is critical of Netanyahu likened his media blitz to “carpet bombing” but acknowledged that “one cannot take away from him the last four-and-a-half years, during which he placed the Iranian issue at the top of the international agenda.”

Yediot Aharonot, however, played down the importance of the debate.

“The Iranians will not have a nuclear bomb in the next three years, and Israel will not attack Iran on its own, at least until next summer,” he wrote.

All Israeli prime ministers since 2002 “have arrived at the same conclusion: the Iranian nuclear issue, which was defined as an existential danger to Israel, must be coped with by all possible means, with the exception of direct military action,” it said.

Since then, “Israel has applied the method of the ‘movable red line,’ which is moved periodically according to circumstances,” it said. “The Israeli demand to disarm Iran of all its nuclear assets is no longer realistic.”

“The lack of a credible military option leaves Netanyahu with the tools his predecessors had: “PR, deterrence and threats.”

The US and its allies suspect Iran of striving to develop nuclear arms under the cover of its civilian nuclear programme, a charge Tehran vehemently denies.