Today analysts and pundits are wondering what is behind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest roundhouse aimed at the Obama administration.
Haaretz‘s Anshel Pfeffer says Netanyahu is struggling to keep Iran on the front burner of the election agenda to prevent Obama from weakening his position:
Does Netanyahu’s outburst this morning mean that all the reports and assessments we have been making and reading and hearing over the last couple of weeks of a receding chance of an imminent attack (even Iran’s Fars News Agency reported on Tuesday that “Israel Drops Empty Talk of War”) have to be revised now? I think not.
Netanyahu seems to have grudgingly accepted that an Iranian attack is off the cards for the next couple of months. Indications of such acceptance include his belated rapprochement with Shimon Peres yesterday, over a month after the Israeli president publicly spoke against a unilateral Israeli strike, as well as Ehud Barak’s speech last week in which he signaled that Israel is relying on America for the time being. On the other hand, Netanyahu is anxious to keep Iran at the top of the international agenda.
Netanyahu fears a creeping acceptance of a nuclear Iran within the Obama administration.
The Atlantic‘s Robert Wright breaks it down into five questions. Here are three of them that explore Obama’s “red lines” and the possibility that Netanyahu is seeking to impact the US elections:
 Is it true, as Bibi Netanyahu says, that the point of contention is the unwillingness of the U.S. to set a “red line”–i.e., a line that, if crossed by Iran, would bring U.S. military action?
Not really. Obama has already laid down a red line. He did so pretty clearly on this very web site, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in March: “As president of the United States, I don’t bluff… I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.” In other words, if Iran tries to build a nuclear weapon–something that would require, for starters, the very conspicuous breaking of UN monitoring seals at its nuclear facilities–Obama will resort to military force to stop it.
 Well then what is the real disagreement between Obama and Netanyahu?
Netanyahu would like Obama to move the red line. He thinks Iran shouldn’t even be allowed to have a “nuclear weapons capability“–i.e., to be in a position where, if it decided to build a bomb, it could do so in, say, six months or nine months or … well, the number of months can vary, depending on who is defining “capability.” That’s why “capability” is such a vague red line (more like a red blur, really). By the more expansive definitions, Iran already has weapons “capability,” because it could probably build a crude (though not “deliverable”) bomb within a year.
 So where is this headed?
Hard to say. Netanyahu has in the eyes of some analysts declared war on Obama; he seems to be trying to damage Obama’s re-election chances by planting doubts about his pro-Israel credentials in the minds of Jewish and right-wing evangelical voters. As I write this, there are reportsthat Obama has responded in kind, denying Netanyahu’s request for a meeting when Bibi comes to New York later this month for the UN General Assembly meeting. But there are also reports that Netanyahu didn’t even make such a request. It’s all very fluid at the moment. In any event, I suspect that, if Obama wins re-election, this tension between the two men will only increase the chances that he then moves quickly toward what may well be a gettable deal with Iran: Iran is allowed to enrich uranium (possibly after a period of suspended enrichment) and accepts very intrusive monitoring of its program to make sure it doesn’t approach weaponization. If such a deal happens, will Netanyahu be happy with it? Maybe not, but I don’t think Netanyahu’s psychological well being will at that point rank high among Obama’s concerns.
Also in the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg looks at “why Bibi is going ballistic” and comes up with this sympathetic answer – he’s just frustrated and venting:
My guess is that he’s saying what he’s saying because he knows he can’t attack, especially before the U.S. election, barring a yellow light from Obama, which he’s not getting. Sheer frustration at what he sees as Obama’s obtuseness is causing these undiplomatic outbursts. . .
Bibi is in a box, and he’s trying to bust it open, but he can’t. Given the direct warnings communicated to him from the Obama Administration and a number of European countries, it is very hard to see him doing anything except vent over the next two months. It’s not impossible that he would make the Holocaust calculus, which is to say, he believes that stopping a second Holocaust is worth the risk of alienating the U.S., but I think he also knows that we’re far from the moment when a second Holocaust might be possible to contemplate.
Foreign Policy‘s managing editor Blake Hounshell challenged Goldberg on this over Twitter, saying he was ignoring the most obvious reason for Bibi’s bluster:
@blakehounshell 1 other thought: Grandiose as Bibi may be, I don’t think he believes he can move this election. Sheldon Adelson, however….
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) September 12, 2012
Commenters on the New York Times website aren’t as conflicted on the issue. Here are the leading “reader’s picks” comments on the story:
John A. Figliozzi, Halfmoon, NY
Netanyahu really is intent on helping his friend, Romney, win the White House. In so doing, he is intentionally interfering in domestic U.S. politics–a wholly inappropriate act for a foreign leader, especially one which deems itself an “ally”. If Netanyahu (ethically compromised already as the record show) and Romney (a man with so little faith in America that he deposits large sums of money off shore) feel that their perception of Israel’s security (which is all it is–a perception) trumps the larger issue of U.S. and global security, I’ll trust the leader (Obama) who has neither of these marks against him and who has already amply demonstrated that he is willing and able to take the necessary steps when the time is right.
Sept. 11, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.
Abe, Acworth GA
Am I the only 1 that thinks it’s time for us to shake hands with Israel and go our separate ways?
Sept. 11, 2012 at 11:46 a.m.
Max, New York
I find it telling that Bibi would choose to criticize his best and most loyal ally on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. No, wait… scratch that. I find it disgusting and insulting.
Really? National Security? We GET IT, dude. On this day more than most. And you know what? We still refuse to be dragged into a unilateral war of your choosing. Just who do you think you are? You forget yourself, sir. Israel is not THAT strategically important. You don’t allow us to put forces on your land, you don’t provide unique intelligence compared to other allied countries, and you thank us for our financial and military support by continuing your apartheid state.
With friends like you, who needs enemies?
Sept. 11, 2012 at 11:46 a.m.
Stu Freeman, Brooklyn, N.Y.
If Iran is “Israel’s most dangerous enemy,” Israel is America’s most dangerous friend. If its leaders really want to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities why do they need a permission slip from the U.S.? Assertions by Mitt Romney, AIPAC and my own rabbi to the contrary Israel is not our 51st state and Benjamin Netanyahu is not our President. Bad enough that we continually sacrifice our own credibility on the world stage to countenance Israeli domestic policy (via a vis their settlements on the West Bank). Do we now need to coddle them to such an extent as to allow their prime minister’s paranoia to dictate our foreign policy? Netan-yahoo needs to either calm down and take hold of himself or ride one of his own nukes down to that installation in Qom a la Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. In either case, leave us the heck out of it.
Sept. 11, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
Mr Netanyahu does NOT set policy for the United States and I am frankly ticked off that he is interjecting himself into the Presidential campaign here now. I have always been a supporter of Israel, but Netanyahu is a clown and I am quickly losing patience over his bullying behavior, like my 10 year old. The US has promised to support and defend Israel. Our word is gold to them. Instead, he obviously wants Romney as President so he has no parameters and will end up dragging the US and everyone else into a HUGE Middle Eastern conflict that is Netanyahu’s dream. I am proud of Obama and his team that WE get to set US policy, not them!
Sept. 11, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.
Eric Lowin, Pleasant Hill, CA
I am a Jew who volunteered for the 1967 war which ended before I even got to Israel, leaving me to pick fruit for a summer. I have always supported Israel although I have never been a single issue voter of the kind the right wing loves to bamboozle. Now we have this blatant attempt by the Likudnik Netanyahu to interfere in the American elections. It is time for this nation to state once and for all that our interests and those of Israel, although linked by common interests, are not identical. The worse elements in this nation, i.e, the incompetent neocons we have to thank for the wonderful Iraq war, the torturers, the war cirminals, and the draft dodgers who loudly proclaimed their enthusiasm for sending other peoples’ sons to war (Dubya and Cheney as an example) while avoiding personal risk, are now beating the drum in concert with the Israel right wing to launch us into another conflict. The consequences of yet another war with a Muslim nation would be catastrophic. A regime like Iran’s , which has very little popular support, governing over a nation whose people are overwhelmingly pro American, would be reinforced for decades. Israel is a nuclear power and is said to have hundreds of weapons in its arsenal. If the Cold War proved anything, its that deterrence works. The Iran regime may be loathsome but it is far from crazy. The Likud is a cancer on the body of Israel as much as the current GOP is in this nation. To hell with them both.
Netanyahu famously said, “I know what America is, America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.” Everyone seems in agreement that Netanyahu is seeking to wag the dog, but to where, and how far he is willing to go, remain the big questions.