- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified their war of words Tuesday, with the Israeli leader saying a U.S.-brokered nuclear deal with Tehran would “pave the way for Iran to atom bombs,” while Mr. Obama told Israelis that their government is driven by fear and is losing credibility.

Mr. Obama appeared in a prime-time interview on Israel’s Channel 2, accusing Mr. Netanyahu’s government of acting too often out of fear of terrorism.

“I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is somebody who’s predisposed to think of security first; to think perhaps that peace is naive; to see the worst possibilities as opposed to the best possibilities in Arab partners or Palestinian partners,” Mr. Obama said. “And so I do think that, right now, those politics and those fears are driving the government’s response.”

He said Mr. Netanyahu’s unrealistic demands for the provisions to create a Palestinian state have “so many caveats, so many conditions that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met at any time in the near future.”

“So the danger is that Israel as a whole loses credibility,” Mr. Obama said. “The international community does not believe that Israel is serious about a two-state solution.”

The president said he doesn’t believe there is a likelihood of a framework agreement between Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution before he leaves office.

The interview came as the Obama administration and five major partners are racing to a June 30 deadline to reach a nuclear accord with Iran. Mr. Netanyahu is opposed to the agreement, warning that it will actually enable Iran to build a nuclear weapon more quickly.

Hours before Mr. Obama interview aired, Mr. Netanyahu tried to preempt the president by publicly slamming the proposed nuclear deal, saying Israel must rely on itself “first and foremost.” He said the challenges facing Israel are “piling up.”

“When speaking of Israelis‘ security, I rely first and foremost on ourselves, and proof of this is the agreement emerging between the world powers and Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Not only will that deal “pave the way for Iran to atom bombs,” he said, but easing economic sanctions will also provide Tehran with billions of additional dollars to further destabilize the region through terrorist attacks.

“With that money it can continue to arm our enemies with high-trajectory weapons and other arms, and also arm its war and terror machine, which is acting against us and the Middle East, and which is much more dangerous than Islamic State’s terror machine, which is also dangerous,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

With Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel increasingly being called into question, the Israeli TV station even aired an interview with former Obama adviser David Axelrod, who said Mr. Obama once confided to him that he believes he is essentially the first Jewish president.

“You know, I think I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office,” the president told Mr. Axelrod, in the former aide’s account. “For people to say that I am anti-Israel, or, even worse, anti-Semitic, it hurts.”

Opponents of the nuclear deal pointed to the latest report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel has grown by about 20 percent over the past 18 months, and not been “frozen” as the Obama administration claimed. The White House said the findings were only “a snapshot in time” and that Iran is working to reduce its stockpile.

Mr. Obama said he won’t sign a nuclear agreement with Iran unless it’s verifiable, and he tried to downplay concerns that Tehran would use its extra cash to finance more terrorist activities.

“They have a low-tech but very effective mechanism of financing proxies, of creating chaos in regions,” Mr. Obama said of the Iranians. “And they’ve also shown themselves, regardless of sanctions, to be willing to finance Hezbollah with rockets and others even in the face of sanctions. So the question then becomes, are they going to suddenly be able to finance 10 times the number of Hezbollah fighters? Probably not.”

Addressing the need for a two-state solution, the president said Israelis must take a long-term view of the challenges facing them due to the rapidly growing Arab population.

“Because of demographics, because of the pressures and the frustrations that are going to exist in the West Bank and certainly already exist in Gaza … over time, Israel is going to have a choice about the nature of the Israeli state and its character,” the president said. “The issue here is not ‘let’s be naive and let’s assume the best;’ the issue is how, in a very difficult situation, where Israel has very real enemies, should it approach the imperative, the necessity to resolve this issue. Because if it does not, then the long-term trends are very dangerous for Israel.”

As for his contentious relationship with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Obama said: “When I’m with Bibi, we have good conversations. They’re tough, they’re forceful, we disagree, but I enjoy jousting with him, I do.”

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