Obama: Too much loose talk of war has only helped Iran

But US President refuses to rule out military action to stop Tehran getting nuclear weapons. Donald Macintyre reports from Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Barack Obama yesterday coupled a pledge that he was prepared to use military action if necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons with a clear warning that "too much loose talk of war" had actually been helpful to Tehran.

On the eve of a crucial meeting today with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the US President repeatedly emphasised his preference for a diplomatic solution, backed by sanctions. "For the sake of Israel's security, America's security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built," he said in a speech to a conference organised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) in Washington DC.

In doing so, and while forcefully warning that a nuclear-armed Iran ran completely counter to both Israel's and the US's security interests, Mr Obama did little to gloss over the issues at the heart of a disagreement between the US and Israel over their strategy towards Tehran's nuclear programme. Key to these differences are two closely-linked issues of timing. For Israel, the "red line" comes when Iran is capable of building a nuclear weapon. According to most Israeli readings, Iran is – thanks to its enrichment of uranium – not far off that point.

For the US administration, the red line comes significantly later, namely if and when Iran starts building, or at least decides to build, a nuclear weapon. This is why President Obama chose his words carefully when he spoke yesterday of his determination to prevent Iran from "acquiring a nuclear weapon", and this why he believes there is time for sanctions and diplomatic pressure. He will tell Mr Netanyahu that these offer a more "permanent" means of solving the problem than a bombing strike that would only set back a military nuclear programme for a few years at most, and might actually strengthen the Iranians' resolve to press ahead with it.

But what if the sanctions do not deter Iran, as Israel says it fears they may not? This is the second timing issue. For, according to the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, Iran may soon enter a "zone of immunity", or the point at which its nuclear facilities, including its underground enrichment plant at Fordow, are beyond the reach of external attack, enabling Iran to complete a nuclear programme "without any effective intervention". Or, at least, without one by Israel, whose arsenal of "bunker-buster" bombs, though formidable, is simply not on the scale of the US military's.

What Israel has, by all accounts, been saying to Washington is this: "OK, if we accept your longer timetable and we wait to see whether the sanctions work, our window of opportunity for an effective military strike will almost certainly be passed. To allow that, we need in return an iron-clad commitment that the US will conduct such strikes if the sanctions fail to stop Iran building nuclear weapons. And that means more than simply saying yet again that ‘all options are on the table’. Only a concrete threat of military action is going to move the Iranians. Otherwise we may well have to go ahead on our own."

It remains to be seen whether Mr Netanyahu will be satisfied by the US President’s promise yesterday that "I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the US and its interests" – interests which, he made clear, would be threatened by a nuclear armed Iran. Certainly, his warning against "loose talk of war" may be seen as a rebuke to some Israeli as well as US Republican politicians. And in publicly welcoming Mr Obama’s assurances last night, Mr Netanyahu pointedly singled out the endorsement of Israel’s "sovereign" right to defend itself as it saw fit.

To be sure, the President holds some cards. He knows Mr Netanyahu is a fairly risk-averse politician; that his ratings are strong enough not to need the severe electoral gamble of a war; that large sections of the Israeli military and intelligence establishment are opposed to a unilateral strike; and that the polls hardly indicate a popular clamour for war in Israel. And this is despite the relatively muted public debate within the country on the potential risks of starting one, from regional conflagration to a possible increase in the support for the Tehran regime by a currently restive Iranian population.

But in a presidential election year, Mr Netanyahu also has leverage. That these talks are being held on the margins of the Aipac conference is a reminder of the influence of that body (far more representative of Israel's government than it is of most American Jews) on US politics.

Mr Obama will be grateful for fulsome expressions of support by Israel's President Shimon Peres yesterday. But Mr Netanyahu's ability to play into the depiction of the US President by his Republican rivals as weak on Iran is not in doubt. Even if Mr Netanyahu is bluffing about a unilateral strike – and senior US officials seem far from confident that he is – Mr Obama may be hard put to resist the Israeli Prime Minister's efforts to force him into a more bellicose stance on Iran without suffering at least some political damage.

Nevertheless, for all of Mr Obama's entirely justifiable professions of how much he has done to foster America's relationship with Israel, yesterday's speech strongly suggests that Mr Netanyahu will not find the US President a pushover when he meets him today.

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker