The Obama administration believes that it has convinced Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to hold off on a potential attack on Iran, and to give sanctions a chance, the New York Times reported Thursday.
According to the Times, Israel and the U.S. are still “at odds” over how the Iran issue should be handled. Despite Netanyahu's ordering government officials – especially Defense Minister Ehud Barak – to refrain from commenting on Israel's potential plans on what to do about the Iranian threat, an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel is not unthinkable, and is increasingly seen the only viable way to stop Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Several Israeli officials – including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who visited Washington this week – have been laying out Israel's case for an attack on Iran, to the increased concern of American officials.
The report said that President Barack H. Obama discussed the potential attack in a phone call with Netanyahu last month, eventually persuading the Israeli premier that he could not justify an attack unless sanctions were given a chance to work. According to an official quoted in the report, Israel is convinced that Iran is close to an “impregnable breakout capability,” at which point its nuclear facilities, buried deep underground, will be out of reach of even the most sophisticated American “bunker buster” bombs – and as a result, the time for action is running out.
The U.S. sees things differently, according to a second official quoted in the story. The official “said 'there are many other options' to slow Iran’s march to a completed weapon, like shutting off Iran’s oil revenues, taking out facilities that supply centrifuge parts or singling out installations where the Iranians would turn the fuel into a weapon. Administration officials cite this more complex picture in pressing the Israelis to give the latest sanctions a chance to inflict enough pain on the Iranian leadership to force it back to the negotiating table, or to make the decision that the nuclear program is not worth the cost.” Already, the official said, the sanctions have wreaked havoc with the Iranian economy, devaluing its currency, ruining its oil export markets, and raising tension among the ruling administration.
Washington, the report added, sees Netanyahu's instructions to senior Israeli officials to “stop blabbering” about Israeli plans as a positive development, indicating Israel's willingness to go along with the sanctions program – at least for now. Netanyahu is set to visit Washington next month to speak to members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; it is not yet clear if he will meet with President Obama there.