Analysis: America and Iran's 'high stakes poker'

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So they shook hands and talked of common values.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be the closest of partners and the best of friends as they met today in the Oval Office.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu face the media after talks at the White House
Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu face the media after talks at the White House Credit: Press Association

In other words, you could mistake it for just another meeting between allies.

Except the words are a carefully constructed facade. The reality is much more awkward and much more consequential.

The most basic point is simple: The two leaders do not trust each other.

Netanyahu says Israel 'reserves the right of self defence'
Netanyahu says Israel 'reserves the right of self defence' Credit: Press Association

Netanyahu wants to persuade the White House that a military strike on Iran is a strategic necessity.

To the immense annoyance of President Obama the Israeli pressure is not just playing out in the Oval Office.

Congress is also subject to an intense and highly successful lobbying campaign.

Barack Obama says there is still the opportunity for a diplomatic solution
Barack Obama says there is still the opportunity for a diplomatic solution Credit: Press Association

The Israelis understand better than anyone the political calendar in Washington.

Netanyahu feels that Obama is just buying time until after his re-election and then will refuse to stand up to the Iranian nuclear threat.

So the Israeli Prime Minister knows that he at the point of maximum strength now.

The stakes could not be higher.

Any military strike against Iran would almost certainly lead to a regional conflict. If Iran tried to close the Straights of Hormuz in response then the economic impact would be felt around the world.

  • Petrol prices would skyrocket
  • Recession would loom
  • Obama's re-election would be in doubt

The President has only one policy option - to play for time.

To promise Israel that Iran will never be allowed a nuclear weapon and to intensify sanctions.

The problem is that this is less a policy and more of a prayer.

It requires a miracle.

It relies on the Iranian leadership ending their nuclear programme voluntarily.

President Obama says his policy is not one of containment but one of prevention.

In 2013 that foreign policy formula may have to be reversed.

But by then he will be into his second term and the politics of dealing with Israel changes again.