The Lake-Ignatius debate: How did Bibi do?


Whether the Bibi-Obama meeting Monday was good for Israel depends on which Washington newspaper you read today.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius is arguing that President Obama is putting the squeeze on the Israeli prime minister:

The relationship has traditionally been an intricate political dance, with American presidents weighing how far they can go without offending Israel’s supporters in Congress. But that sort of gamesmanship was absent this time: Obama said he wants negotiations for a Palestinian state, soon, and he challenged the Israeli prime minister to get on board.

Obama squeezed Netanyahu, ever so gently, in his public comments after their Oval Office meeting. "I have great confidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political skills, but also his historical vision. . . . And I have great confidence that he’s going to rise to the occasion," Obama said.

Obama similarly outmaneuvered Netanyahu in the run-up to the White House meeting. The Israeli leader sought to link progress on the Palestinian issue with a tough U.S. stand against Iran. But from his first day in office, Obama began staking out strong U.S. positions — for a Palestinian state and for engagement with Iran. By this week, Netanyahu found himself acceding to Obama’s plans for exploratory talks with Iran through year-end, even though many Israelis fear this timetable could be dangerous.

But over at the Washington Times, Eli Lake has a scoop suggesting that Bibi actually did quite well at this week’s White House powwow:

The United States and Israel are quietly forming a high-level working group to assess the progress of President Obama’s outreach to Iran and to share intelligence about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, officials familiar with the two countries’ deliberations said Tuesday.

The agreement, reached during Monday’s meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Obama, gives the U.S. a clear channel for communicating with the new Israeli government and a vehicle for keeping tabs on any military contingency plans Israel might make if diplomacy fails and Iran develops nuclear weapons capability. …

One Israeli official told The Washington Times that the working group intends to meet at least once a month. "Contingencies would include sanctions and other forms of pressure," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

It’s worth noting that in advance of the meeting, Lake’s Israeli sources were raising red flags about the Obama administration potentially pressuing Israel to give up its nucleaer weapons as part of a wider deal with Iran. Assuming he’s speaking to the same people before and after, the Israelis seem much less concerned at this point.

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