4:35 pm Sep. 27, 2012
Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu guaranteed his share of international headlines today by drawing actual red lines, in marker, on a drawing of a bomb representing Iran's progress toward nuclear capability during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. In the U.N. address, he also said he believed Iran's progress would be unstoppable by next spring or summer.
"Red lines don't lead to war," he said during his half-hour speech. "Red lines prevent war."
Then Netanyahu headed to Gracie Mansion to meet with the mayor of New York.
Netanyahu's post-speech meeting with Michael Bloomberg was announced amid controversy, stoked by Mitt Romney and his supporters, over President Obama's decision not to schedule a one-on-one meeting with the Israeli prime minister this week.
Standing by Netanyahu at a podium in front of Gracie Mansion, as military boats patrolled the river behind the mansion, Bloomberg talked about the "special bond between our city and Israel," and said "like Israel, New York has remained a target for people who wish to destroy [its] freedom."
Bloomberg, who has been critical of both Obama and Romney and hasn't said who he's planning to vote for, said, "I thought president Obama gave an excellent speech in the U.N., and he was absolutely right to say" that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu nodded as Bloomberg talked about "never again" tolerating regimes based on racial or religious hostility.
"Thank you Michael," Netanyahu began. "You are indeed a champion of New York City, of the United States, you've contributed mightily to both ..."
Netanyahu also talked about the "deep sympathies that emanate from this common commitment to freedom."
And he said, "It is important to be clear and unambiguous about preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons," and said, again, that there were "red lines that Iran must not pass."
He said he believed preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons without war was still "achievable," and that Israel would continue to work together with America toward that goal.
As the prime minister and the mayor shook hands for the cameras, New York 1 reporter Josh Robin asked an unanswered question about whether there was any daylight between Netanyahu and Obama. The two officials turned and walked up the steps into Gracie Mansion.
There is daylight, of course. There is Obama's refusal to agree to red lines on Iran as urged by Netanyahu. And there is, relatedly, the fact that Netanyahu had to content himself this week with the Bloomberg meeting, rather than the one-on-one talk he wanted with Obama.
Netanyahu said recently that he wouldn't "be drawn into the American election," but he's been involved in it for a while, making his displeasure with the current administration plain. And notwithstanding his denial, now, that anyone's throwing anyone under any buses, that idea that the current administration is betraying Israel—or that it is acting naively by not embracing explicit red lines for Iran—still forms the basis of many attacks on the administration by Romney and his surrogates.
Just this week, Rudy Giuliani said, "the president is in New York today. He went on 'The View,' but he can't visit with Netanyahu or any other world leaders. He was there a couple days ago and he visited with Beyonce and Jay-Z and collected 40 grand a person and didn't have enough time to meet with Netanyahu, which gives us a sense of where Israel fits in his priority scheme, which is not very high. "
Romney himself said earlier this month that Obama's decision not to meet with Netanyahu this week was "confusing and troubling."
There now appear to be efforts underway by people in Netanyahu's cabinet, if not Netanyahu himself, to ratchet down tensions with the Obama administration. That's likely a function of politics as much as anything, with polls showing Obama in an increasingly strong position for November, and Jewish support for the Democratic ticket apparently undiminished by Obama's fraught personal relationship with Netanyahu.
Ross Baker, the political science professor from Rutgers, suggested Netanyahu in particular is seen by pro-Israel voters as another politician, rather than an arbiter of friendship with the Jewish state.
"I think many people feel that Netanyahu has already been much too transgressive in terms of the American political campaign," Baker said. "He's just kind of gotten into it without making any formal endorsement. Even just by his very limited and guarded statements about not meeting with Obama, you kind of get reading between the lines this sense of having been slighted."
Apparently that's over for now.