I’ve written before about the war the media is covering the issue of Iran, and how the narratives in the media are part of the political process. This was illustrated again in the past week. So here is a recap.
Again, I don’t work for either administration and I don’t have psychic powers to look into the heads of Netanyahu, Obama, Barak or Clinton. But it doesn’t take any special powers to detect that we are witnessing a shift in the language used by especially Netanyahu when talking about Iran. It’s too early to say exactly what this indicates, but it indicates something. Words matter. Especially when uttered at this level in these times.
(Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
– Talking about “red lines”
Netanyahu said recently (Monday the 10th) that “international community must set a “clear red line” for Iran. The majority of analysts see this as a possible way for Netanyahu to back down and not loosing face when not launching a unilateral attack on Iran (by now, the dominating opinion is that Israel is very unlikely to attack Iran on its own). Netanyahu even said that this was the only way to avoid a military attack on Iran. And he said it with a clear address to Washington. That backfired.
– Talking about “deadline”
Hillary Clinton was then asked in an interview “ if the Obama administration will lay out sharper “red lines” for Iran or state explicitly the consequences of failing to negotiate a deal with world powers by a certain date, Clinton said, “We’re not setting deadlines.” Clearly signalling that Israel doesn’t get to dictate US policy. And, in my opinion, also telling Netanyahu off for continuing this debate in a very public fashion.
– Talking about not talking. Or rather: Taking the conversation out of the media
Defence Minister Barak issued a statement laying into Netanyahu, and stressing that “Israel and the United States should find a way to resolve their differences behind closed doors.” Much is and will be made of Barak’s statement, which is seen as backing away from teh overly confrontational and belligerent tone of the summer. A tune Barak was instrumental in promulgating. He also seems to be siding with the US in the matter how defining ‘red lines’ and who gets to do that.
– Talking about “red lines”, part 2
Netanyahu responded to Clinton’s statement:”The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time’. And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
So much for not having that debate in public… But notice that he still focuses on defining red lines.
– Should we meet? nay…
In the meantime, Obama called Netanyahu last night and they talked. Some dry statements have been released but thankfully so far no leaks (I hate leaks. They undermine trust. in all relationships. and are so bad for diplomacy.) The two “discussed the cooperation on Iran and other security issues and agreed to continue their close consultations going forward.”
It is also clear that they won’t be meeting in NYC during the UN’s general assembly later this month. The White House is trying to convince the world that it’s not their decision and that Netanyahu simply didn’t request a meeting and thus Obama never turned him down. And never said as quoted by many that Obama was “too busy” to meet after the GA. Personally, I am not buying that. It seems much more likely that officials from both sides new that putting Obama and Netanyahu together would reignite the demand for “red lines” and “deadlines” and Obama won’t give Israel that guarentee. And giving Netanyahu anything short of that will be worse than not meeting. Israeli officials are by the way confirming (at least most of them) the White House’s version. It’s also in their interest not to expose how little influence Netanyahu has. Asking and being told “I am too busy” is not so great.
I sure hope that SOMEONE is meeting SOMEBODY and having some much needed conversation. It is essential and paramount and vital (and I am running out of adjectives) that the US and Israel are coordinated on Iran. And if Obama and Netanyahu can’t get their act together, I hope their representatives can.
Oh, a final note: This might seem like I siding with Obama/Clinton on this one. And ignoring that Israel is an allay of the US and the administration should treat Jerusalem with more consideration and respect. And just give us the reassurance. I am not picking sides (I don’t much like either in this case, I think both administrations are handling the very real threat of a nuclear Iran horribly).
But I do think that Netanyahu crossed the line in his very public demands for something so specific – and his retort at Clinton was not statesman like. He cannot boss her around. And his demands should have been cleared in confidentiality, discussed ‘in private’. Him bringing it up this way means either that he asked for ‘red lines’ and was denied (and then restating the demand in public is down right stupid, and more than deserves Clinton’s rejection) or he decided to introduce this safety vault without clearing it with Washington. Which is little league game, and also explains Clinton’s reaction.
Let me qualify this: Yes, it would be amazing and potentially the only effective thing if Obama got up at the UN assembly and said “Iran, listen and listen good: Enough. The moment you cross this read line and do A, B or C is the moment I am coming for you and bringing the entire international community with me. And we won’t leave until your nuclear programme us terminated. Get it? Stop enriching uranium or face the consequences.” That would be the best. But Netanyahu publicly demanding that he says that less than a month before the assembly makes such a statement impossible. Because it would make Obama look like Netanyahu’s puppet. And so – again – saying something in the media means influencing policy.
I can see why Washington is doing and saying what it is. But as for my own leader… I really don’t know what’s going on. But there better be method in the madness because *this* is not productive.
And for those who want to read an editorial putting the onus on Obama — have a look at Wall Street Journal here