US and Israel clash over Iran’s nuclear ambitions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) is publicly trading insults with his American 'friends'. Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

At last, it’s come to war. For only so long could the explosive tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions be contained.

Relax. The hostilities that have broken out are verbal rather than military. The strange thing is that the protagonists are supposedly the closest allies – Israel and the United States.

Tehran’s role is merely that of the amused by-stander to a bitter diplomatic dust up that sees Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publically trade punches with his American "friends".

Last night, Obama and Netanyahu spoke by phone for a hour. If the aim was to mend fences, there was no meeting of minds.

Nor will there be any meeting of men. In what many will see as a calculated snub, the President is unable to find space in his diary for a face to face with Netanyahu when he visits the States at the end of the month.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone in a bid to diffuse the row. Credit: REUTERS/Jim Young

How did it come to this? Netanyahu’s critics say he has only himself to blame.

Over the course of a long and hot Middle Eastern summer, the Israeli premier raised the political temperature with an implicit threat of air-strikes on Iran. Only concerted and effective international action against Tehran would stay his hand, he said.

The thought of another war in the region sank stomachs in many western capitals. Two weeks ago, a British envoy was dispatched to Jerusalem to tell the Israelis the stop rattling the bars.

More telling has been Netanyahi’s failure to win the support of his own defence and intelligence chiefs.

So the war rhetoric was dialed down. Instead, he demanded that Iran be set "red-lines" in its nuclear research over which it would step at its peril.

Then the plot quickens.

At the weekend, Hillary Clinton re-iterated America’s determination to give sanctions and diplomacy time to work. Specifically, she rejected the idea of deadlines.

Hillary Clinton said the US will give sanctions and diplomacy with Iran time to work. Credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Then yesterday, US defence secretary Leon Panetta insisted the Pentagon would have a year or more to deal with Iran if the Islamic Republic decides to make a bomb. All this peace-mongering seems to have set Netanyahu ablaze. Here’s his response yesterday.

The world tells Israel to wait, there is still time. I say wait for what? Wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put deadlines in front of Iran do not have the moral right to put a red light before Israel.

Reaction in Israel has been predictably divided.

To the Prime Minister’s critics; Netanyahu has badly overplayed his hand, meddled in the US election process, and so damaged relations with Obama that his only hope of redemption is a Romney victory come November.

Critics of Benjamin Netanyahu suggest only a Mitt Romney victory in November could restore the relationship with US. Credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Others believe their Prime Minister is motivated only out of a fervent desire to save his country from an existential threat. Like him, they do not believe American assurances that they have Israel’s back covered.

This morning, his officials play it all with a straight bat. On the issue of nuclear weapons, they said:

The important thing is Iran gets a crystal clear message from the international community.

Indeed. Tehran is getting a message. And it is crystal clear. Israel and the United States are at each other’s throats.

Netanyahu's spokesman today tweeted: