The divergent timelines and histories of Obama and Netanyahu

Leo Rennert
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu took time out in the Oval Office for photo ops with waves  of photographers and correspondents before settling down to their deliberations on the Iranian nuclear threat.   While cameras clicked, they also had an opportunity to set the tone for their summit -- the ninth such meeting during their respective tenures.

Each man was primed to make nice, diplomatic remarks about the close ties that bind both countries.  Obama underscored his support of Israel and  his determination not to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons.  In turn, Netanyahu thanked the president for his "strong" speech at the AIPAC conference and stressed their mutual interest in standing up against Iran's nuclear ambitions.  In Iran's eyes, "you're the Great Satan and we're the Little Satan," he told the president.

So far, not anything of stop-the-presses significance.  Yet, in more closely parsing their remarks, one can find a few very revealing comments that point up their different historical perspectives and action timelines when it comes to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

On that score, Obama avowed that there will be "a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012."  An Obama timeline that interestingly parallels the next eight months leading up to the November presidential elections.  It was Obama in effect acknowledging his preoccupation with having to cope with an Iranian conflagration in the most sensitive period in his reelection campaign.  It was more than a hint, indeed a plea for Israel to hold its fire until Obama has secured a second term.

For his part, Netanyahu essentially laid out not one, but two timelines of his own that have nothing to do with Obama's political agenda.

Bibi's first timeline spans two millennia, from the end of Jewish sovereignty during the Roman conquest until 1948, which ushered in a "Jewish state to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny," as he put it.   Given this historical context, Netanyahu added, "my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its own fate."

And with that in mind, that's when Netanyahu introduced his second timeline for when to confront Iran.  That decision, he signaled, must  be consonant with the imperatives of Israeli survival -- and thus not necessarily with Obama's reelection calendar -- "Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions."

It was a clear, polite divergence by Netanyahu from Obama's concerns about "a series of difficult months in 2012" -- a divergence rooted in Jewish loss of sovereignty for 2,000 years and an evocation of an even earlier biblical mandate that Jews must give no quarter to the Amaleks in all generations.  Amalek was the dastardly enemy who attacked the rear of the Israelites during their march to the Promised Land, killing vulnerable stragglers.  To Netanyahu, Ahmadinejad is today's Amalek.  And that animates Bibi in a way that Obama can barely grasp.

To drive this point home, Netanyahu handed Obama a copy of the Book of Esther, which recounts a genocidal threat by an evil Haman to kill all Jews in Persia and how Esther, the monarch's Jewish queen, saved her people just in time.  Bibi's message: Ahmadinejad is not only a personification of Amalek; he's also today's Haman, who must be stopped come what may.

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu took time out in the Oval Office for photo ops with waves  of photographers and correspondents before settling down to their deliberations on the Iranian nuclear threat.   While cameras clicked, they also had an opportunity to set the tone for their summit -- the ninth such meeting during their respective tenures.

Each man was primed to make nice, diplomatic remarks about the close ties that bind both countries.  Obama underscored his support of Israel and  his determination not to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons.  In turn, Netanyahu thanked the president for his "strong" speech at the AIPAC conference and stressed their mutual interest in standing up against Iran's nuclear ambitions.  In Iran's eyes, "you're the Great Satan and we're the Little Satan," he told the president.

So far, not anything of stop-the-presses significance.  Yet, in more closely parsing their remarks, one can find a few very revealing comments that point up their different historical perspectives and action timelines when it comes to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

On that score, Obama avowed that there will be "a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012."  An Obama timeline that interestingly parallels the next eight months leading up to the November presidential elections.  It was Obama in effect acknowledging his preoccupation with having to cope with an Iranian conflagration in the most sensitive period in his reelection campaign.  It was more than a hint, indeed a plea for Israel to hold its fire until Obama has secured a second term.

For his part, Netanyahu essentially laid out not one, but two timelines of his own that have nothing to do with Obama's political agenda.

Bibi's first timeline spans two millennia, from the end of Jewish sovereignty during the Roman conquest until 1948, which ushered in a "Jewish state to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny," as he put it.   Given this historical context, Netanyahu added, "my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its own fate."

And with that in mind, that's when Netanyahu introduced his second timeline for when to confront Iran.  That decision, he signaled, must  be consonant with the imperatives of Israeli survival -- and thus not necessarily with Obama's reelection calendar -- "Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions."

It was a clear, polite divergence by Netanyahu from Obama's concerns about "a series of difficult months in 2012" -- a divergence rooted in Jewish loss of sovereignty for 2,000 years and an evocation of an even earlier biblical mandate that Jews must give no quarter to the Amaleks in all generations.  Amalek was the dastardly enemy who attacked the rear of the Israelites during their march to the Promised Land, killing vulnerable stragglers.  To Netanyahu, Ahmadinejad is today's Amalek.  And that animates Bibi in a way that Obama can barely grasp.

To drive this point home, Netanyahu handed Obama a copy of the Book of Esther, which recounts a genocidal threat by an evil Haman to kill all Jews in Persia and how Esther, the monarch's Jewish queen, saved her people just in time.  Bibi's message: Ahmadinejad is not only a personification of Amalek; he's also today's Haman, who must be stopped come what may.