Sources in the Israeli government are saying that the main purpose of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel in the spring is to deter Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from attacking Iran, according to an Army Radio broadcast on Sunday.
With the “red line” for stopping Iran so vividly marked off by Netanyahu during his speech to the United Nations in September drawing ever closer, Obama is said to be intent on heading off Israeli military action before midyear.
The officials added that the makeup of the next Israeli government is also a factor in the president’s trip since he is concerned that the prime minister will be more likely to order an air strike now that two influential moderates, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, have left the government.
The message Obama will reportedly be taking with him to Yerushalayim: “Don’t attack Iran. Let me handle matters with the Iranians according to my understanding, and if necessary I will take action. We have capabilities that you do not.”
Netanyahu confirmed at the weekly Cabinet meeting that Iran, Syria and the Palestinians will top the agenda during the visit.
“It is a very important visit that will emphasize the strong alliance between Israel and the United States,” Netanyahu said, making no mention of any of the red-line diplomacy on the part of Obama.
Netanyahu said Obama’s visit now was particularly important in the context of regional instability, or, as he put it, the “earthquake that is happening around us.”
At the same time, speculation that presidential pressure to resume negotiations with the Palestinians is really the main driver of the visit continued.
In response, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman repeated his view that Israel has no chance of signing a permanent peace accord with the Palestinians and should instead seek a long-term interim deal.
“Anyone who thinks that in the center of this socio-diplomatic ocean, this tsunami which is jarring the Arab world, it is possible to arrive at the magic solution of a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians does not understand,” Lieberman told Israeli media.
“This is impossible. It is not possible to solve the conflict here. The conflict can be managed and it is important to manage the conflict … to negotiate on a long-term interim agreement.”
Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, noted that Lieberman was expressing his own opinion, not that of the government.
Asked how Netanyahu saw peace prospects with the Palestinians, Regev referred to a speech on Tuesday in which the prime minister said that Israel, while addressing threats from its enemies, “must also pursue secure, stable and realistic peace with our neighbors.”
Meanwhile on Sunday, an initiative emerged to have President Obama speak directly to the Israeli public at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.
A petition has been created on the official White House website calling for Obama to speak directly on “our people’s friendship, the hope for change and the prospects for peace, security and prosperity in the Middle East.”