JERUSALEM — Fearing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on the verge of ordering an airstrike on Iran’s nuclear plants, President Obama sent two emissaries here almost exactly a year ago to stop him. Warning that the White House could not abide an attack in the run-up to the November elections, the Americans persuaded the prime minister to give the newest sanctions time to bite, according to Americans and Israelis familiar with the tense exchanges.
During Mr. Obama’s own visit here in March, he made clear, again, that if Iran truly got close to building a bomb, the United States would act, squashing talk of an Israeli strike since.
Now, Mr. Netanyahu sounds like a man who regrets not acting when he had the chance. In his speech this week at the United Nations, followed by a media blitz and a series of private briefings, he has only grudgingly endorsed the negotiations between the West and Iran expected to start Oct. 15 in Geneva. As leaders in Washington and Europe increasingly acknowledge that Iran will most likely retain some nuclear fuel production capability, Mr. Netanyahu set out what most experts see as unrealistic conditions — a complete dismantlement of key nuclear facilities — and has repeatedly warned against relaxing sanctions until a deal is done.
But while his United Nations address included the most explicit warning to date of a unilateral strike — “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone” — Israeli and other analysts say that Mr. Netanyahu’s hands are now all but tied. Israel could hardly exercise its military option while the United States is negotiating, experts say, and would be hard-pressed to strike if Washington and its other allies reach a deal with Iran.
“He’s cornered — is he going to spoil the international celebration and say, ‘I think it’s not a good enough deal so I’m going to use the military option?’ ” asked Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli brigadier general who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “If there is a good deal, it’s a good deal for him as well. If there is no deal, he can go it alone, but if there is a bad deal, what can he do? He’s trapped. That’s his nightmare.”
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment