Netanyahu and Obama: You Bet We Get Along

AP

AP
After spending more than an hour in private - plainly aware that it is widely believed that they do not get along and do not trust each other - President Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu insisted that all is well.

The United States and the Jewish state have shared interests, and they have decided to send out a loud message that they will be working together in major endeavors that top the entire world's agenda.

Mr. Obama, summarizing the talks to a group of reporters in the Oval Office, chose to begin with Gaza. He applauded Netanyahu's government for easing the blockade of the Palestinians there "more quickly and effectively than many had expected."

The next subject mentioned was Iran. The president stressed that the United Nations and the U.S. have now adopted the strongest sanctions ever, aimed at persuading Iran to stop its nuclear program "and to cease the kinds of provocative behavior that have made it a threat to its neighbors and to the international community."

Netanyahu could only be delighted that Iran was stressed even before the president turned to the on-again-off-again negotiations for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The visitor must have also enjoyed this statement from Mr. Obama: "I believe the Prime Minister wants peace and is willing to take risks for peace."

One longtime U.S. diplomat commented later: "That's a big gift to Bibi, so now he'd better deliver." Indeed, if Netanyahu has trouble persuading his cabinet in Jerusalem to approve gestures aimed at lubricating peace talks, the Obama Administration will point to the great things the president said and demand that Netanyahu come through.

Mr. Obama also voiced some of the concerns that Israel likes to talk about: the need for Arab countries to support peace negotiations, and a call on the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to stop anti-Jewish incitement and stop "looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel."

Washington Unplugged: What Did the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting Achieve?

Netanyahu, somewhat surprisingly, mentioned several times that Israel and the U.S. have a lot of clandestine cooperation. Both men spoke of intelligence exchanges, and the Israeli leader seemed to be hinting that the two nations will secretly be working closely together in the coming months. This might be taken as an indication that the CIA, the Mossad, and perhaps other agencies are jointly trying to slow or stop Iran's nuclear program.

Israelis may have felt great relief when Mr. Obama went out of his way to crush a story that several newspapers and media outlets have been highlighting lately: the U.S. letting a U.N. non-proliferation document contain an implicit call on Israel to acknowledge or give up its own nuclear arsenal.

"I reiterated to the Prime Minister there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues," Mr. Obama said, immediately adding that because Israel is so tiny and surrounded by enemies it "has unique security requirements."

It was in this context, and not with reference to surrendering territories to the Palestinians, that the president declared: "The United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests."

Both leaders said reports that they distrust each other and have not been getting along are wrong. And in the months ahead, they apparently intend to demonstrate that.

At this fifth meeting in the United States between them as president and prime minister, Netanyahu said "it's time to redress the balance," so he invited the Obamas to visit Israel. Many Israeli political analysts say that could go a long way to shatter the distrust that most Israelis - based on polls - seem to feel toward Mr. Obama, after eight years of being showered with almost unquestioning friendship by George W. Bush.

Though no dates were set for a trip, Mr. Obama immediately offered a strong handshake - as the two men sat in chairs positioned very close to each other - and said with a bright smile: "Look forward to it!"

The veteran U.S. diplomat, who was watching on TV, said: "They are such great actors. Now let's see what they do."

More from Dan Raviv: Obama, Netanyahu Will Learn They Need Each Other


Dan Raviv, a CBS News national radio correspondent and host of the CBS News Weekend Roundup, is co-author of "Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance" and "Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israel's Intelligence Community."

  • Dan Raviv On Twitter»

    Dan Raviv is a correspondent for CBS Radio News based in Washington, host of CBS News Weekend Roundup, and co-author of "Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars"

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