Two new signs point to the deepening rift between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over how to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts: a reported confrontation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. ambassador to Israel and a statement by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey that he doesn’t want to be “complicit” in an Israeli strike on Iran.
The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot headlined its Friday paper “The Confrontation” with a photo of Netanyahu on one side and President Obama alongside U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, on the other. Veteran diplomatic correspondent Shimon Schiffer reports that during a private meeting last week, Netanyahu very undiplomatically attacked Obama and his advisers over what he views as their ineffective Iran policy. The incident took place when Republican congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers visited Netanyahu’s office for an Iran briefing, accompanied by the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Schiffer reports:
Netanyahu, according to a source who participated in the meeting, was particularly surly and stressed. At the start of the meeting, he opened with a sharp attack on the Obama administration which according to him has not done enough on the Iranian issue. “Instead of effectively pressuring Iran, Obama and his people are pressuring us not to attack the nuclear facilities,” he said, and then moved on to a harsh criticism of the administration’s pronouncements indicating there is still room for diplomacy.
Angered about continued US rhetoric that diplomacy needs more time to work, Netanyahu said flatly: “Time has run out,” Yediot reported.
At one point, an anomalous thing occurred in the office, which is very unacceptable in diplomatic code. Ambassador Shapiro who was appointed by President Obama and for years was among his closest advisers decided he’d had enough. Enough is enough. He spoke and answered Netanyahu politely but in a manner that left no room for doubt.
While Shapiro tried to respond politely, but firmly, apparently he overstepped his bounds. The ambassador in fact accused Netanyahu of distorting Obama’s position. He claimed that Obama had promised that Iran would not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and that military options were still on the table.
That did not go over well and sources claim that is when “lightning and sparks flew” in the room, and that a shouting match between Netanyahu and Shapiro took place. Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) was also on hand and sat stunned as Shapiro and Netanyahu went at each other.
Meanwhile, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey voiced his strongest opposition to date to any unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear plants. He told reporters in London: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.” The Guardian reports:
Distancing himself from any Israeli plan to bomb Iran, Dempsey said such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program”.
He added: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been adamant that the nation’s nuclear facilities exist solely for peaceful purposes and that the country is not in the market for procuring nuclear warheads, a sentiment echoed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this week told heads of state, “Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none.”
Dempsey said he did not know Iran’s nuclear intentions, as intelligence did not reveal intentions. What was clear, he said, was that the “international coalition” applying pressure on Iran “could be undone if [Iran] was attacked prematurely.” Sanctions against Iran were having an effect, and they should be given a reasonable opportunity to succeed.
For now it appears Iran’s nuclear march proceeds unabated by sanctions and diplomacy, as reflected in the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report. According to the IAEA’s latest quarterly report, Iran has more than doubled the number of centrifuges it has in its underground Fordo bunker, vastly increasing its uranium enrichment capacity.