Obama coming to Israel March 20-21 to pressure Israel not to strike Iran, reports Israeli media

Netanyahu and Obama at a March 2012 meeting in the White House (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Netanyahu and Obama at a March 2012 meeting in the White House (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

The big question Israeli leaders are asking is this: Why exactly is President Obama really coming to Israel on March 20 and 21?

It is reported that the White House won’t be bringing a new Arab-Israeli peace plan. Given the budget strains in the U.S., it is unlikely the President is bringing new funds for Israel. As I noted last week, some are hoping the meetings will produce a re-set in U.S.-Israeli relations, while others worry Obama is coming to put new pressure on Israel to divide Jerusalem, not deal decisively with the Iranian nuclear threat, and make other unwise security choices.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday put the upcoming presidential visit in the most positive light. He told his cabinet that he and President Obama have agreed on three topics to discuss during their time together. First, how to stop Iran from getting the Bomb. Second, the implosion of Syria and its implications for U.S. and Israeli security. Third, how to make peace with the Palestinians.

“I welcome President Obama’s intention to visit Israel,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet this morning. “This will be a very important visit that will emphasize the strong alliance between Israel and the US. I think that the importance of this alliance stands out even more given what is happening, in light of the great revolutions, the earthquakes that are taking place around us throughout the Middle East, from the Atlantic Ocean and North Africa and eastwards to Iran.”

The President “intends to stay in Jerusalem for two days,” reports Ynet News. “He is slated to meet with various Israeli leaders and tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Mount Herzl.”

However, several major Israeli media outlets are quoting sources saying Mr. Obama is coming to prevent Israel for striking Iran.

“The main purpose of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel in the spring, is to warn Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu against attacking Iran,” according to the lead story on the Jerusalem Post website today, based on quotes from “unnamed officials” on Israeli Army Radio on Sunday. “According to the officials, the reason for the urgency of the trip, is that in his speech to the United Nations in September, Netanyahu had flagged the spring of 2013 as a significant time in the context of the Iranian nuclear threat. Therefore, they said, Obama is concerned that the prime minister will decide to attack Iran now when he is backed by a new government and can establish a new security cabinet, without Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, two alleged opponents of a strike. The two outgoing Likud MKs lost their Knesset seats in the recent elections.”

The Times of Israel also reported the story as the lead headline on its website, noting: “Obama will reiterate US determination to ensure that Iran does not attain nuclear weapons, and will remind Netanyahu that the US has military ‘capacities’ that Israel does not possess, the report added. New Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that the diplomatic option remained open, but that all other options were also on the table. ‘Obama decided to come himself and deliver to Netanyahu the direct message, ‘Don’t strike at Iran. Let me oversee the contacts with Iran as I see fit. If necessary I’ll take action against them. We have capacities that you do not have’,’ the [Army] radio report said.”

Are these reports accurate that an American President is intensifying pressure on an Israeli Prime Minister to prevent him from launching a massive preemptive military strike to neutralize Iran’s nuclear threat? I can’t say for certain, but as I read these stories this morning they reminded me of the plot of The Tehran Initiative, in which the Israelis launch a first strike despite intense White House pressure, and my forthcoming novel, Damascus Countdown, which imagines the Iranian and Syrian blowback from an Israeli first strike. It’s  anyone’s guess how this real life drama will play out, but I’d say we’d better keep praying for peace.

>> The President’s going to Israel this year — so is the Secretary of State — how about you? Come with me and The Joshua Fund on a “Prayer & Vision Trip” to the Holy Land and to the 2013 Epicenter Conference this summer. For more details, and/or to register, please click here.

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