Obama's strong words for Iran won't placate a restless Israel

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with US President Obama on a trip to the US in March 2012 Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

There were no red lines, no deadlines and not even a line sketched out in the sand by President Obama.

On Iran, his language was assertive when he broached the problem of Iran's nuclear programme at the UN General Assembly today:

Let me be clear: America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited.

– president obama speaking before the un general assembly
President Obama speaking before the UN General Assembly today

But it was a long way short of the ultimatum demanded by an Israeli premier who has pressed his case so hard and so publicly that he’s been accused of meddling in the US election campaign. One seasoned Israeli observer told me:

I have never known relations between Israel and America to be so bad, and I go back four decades.

This is something no US president can tolerate. A foreign leader effectively trying to topple him.

There are even some in the Israeli Security Cabinet who are concerned that their prime minister’s rhetoric has been too heated.

Israelis know that to alienate the US is to fall out not just with their best friend, but also with the superpower that guarantees their survival.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's anti-Iran rhetoric has grown more heated in recent days Credit: REUTERS/POOL New

As Obama spoke today, the sun set in Israel, marking the start of Yom Kippur - the most sacred and solemn day in the Jewish calender.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria chose this moment to attack an Israel caught off guard.

Forty years on, many Israelis agree with their prime minister’s assessment that the threat from Iran is real and that the price for being caught by surprise again would be too awful to contemplate.

After Yom Kippur, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies to New York to address the General Assembly and the fundamental difference between his government and the White House.

American will not tolerate Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon.

Israel does not want Iran to have the capability to build a weapon.

That is a considerable gap, and it’s hard to think of any kind of line being able to bridge it.