Well before he moved into the White House, Barack Obama began talking to Israel about Iran’s nuclear program, and even then there was mistrust. He met in 2008 with several leading Israelis, including Benjamin Netanyahu—before Netanyahu was elected prime minister—and impressed everyone with his determination to stop Iran from going nuclear. Netanyahu liked much of what he heard, according to a source in his inner circle. What troubled him, however, was that Obama didn’t talk specifically about Israel’s security.
Rather, he discussed Iran in the context of a broader non-proliferation policy. “He showed much command of the issues, even though it was months before he got elected,” says the Netanyahu source. “It was clear that he read and internalized things. But when he spoke about Iran and his opposition to the nuclearization of Iran … the Israeli factor did not play prominently.”
That discomfort has continued through a series of meetings and conversations since both men took office. On Jan. 12 of this year, Obama called Netanyahu to clarify again, in part, the national interest and policies of the United States in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. The message has been conveyed repeatedly, via many channels: the administration is asking for “the time and the space for the sanctions to work,” says a senior administration official. “Not only have we put in place the most robust economic sanctions ever, but we’ve just started to move on the energy sector.” Above all, the White House doesn’t want Israel to start a war—not yet, anyway.