Obama-Netanyahu meeting next week could be tense

President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 20, 2011. Read more: Netanyahu defies Obama on '67 borders at meeting
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in this May 2011 file photo.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is headed to Washington next week for another important Oval Office session with President Obama. Their meetings in the past have been tense and this one may be no exception.

There is no doubt what is at the top of the agenda for their meeting on Monday: Iran and its refusal to stop what the world believes is a crash program to develop a nuclear weapon.

The backdrop for Netanyahu's visit will be the annual meeting of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Mr. Obama speaks to the delegates Sunday morning and Netanyahu addresses the group Monday night.

To provide even more political pressure, Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will speak to AIPAC on Tuesday.

Israel has said it has no choice but to believe Iranian threats to destroy the Jewish state.

But according to Israeli press accounts, Netanyahu has ordered officials to keep comments about the possibility of a military strike against Iran "under the radar."

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There is a disagreement between the United States and Israel over how long it is possible to wait before sending warplanes to try to cripple Iran's nuclear program. Israel has the military capabilities to carry out the mission but it would be very difficult and might not accomplish the goal.

American forces are much better equipped to do enough damage to Iranian nuclear sites. But U.S. officials reportedly believe they can wait longer until Iran's intentions are completely clear. A string of American officials have visited Israel in recent weeks to plead for more time for international sanctions to affect the Iranian economy.

Netanyahu is said to be ready to tell Mr. Obama, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, that Israel wants him "to make further-reaching declarations" than the vague assertion that "all options are on the table" against Iran.

"In particular," Ha'aretz reported this week, "Netanyahu wants Obama to state unequivocally that the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain 'red lines' ... Israel feels this will increase pressure on Iran by making clear that there exists a real U.S. threat."

In the New York Times today, the former chief of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, writes, "What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity - and all other options have failed to halt Tehran's nuclear quest - Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so."

Yadlin, who was one of the pilots who destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, concluded, "I hope Mr. Obama will make this clear. If he does not, Israeli leaders may well choose to act while they still can."