Voice

Did Bibi win the midterms?

As a general rule, American politicians do not rally to the side of foreign leaders when those leaders directly confront the president of the United States. I don't, for example, recall liberal Democrats cheering on French President Jacques Chirac when he defied President George W. Bush on Iraq, even though they thought he was right. Siding with France would have seemed unpatriotic -- and, of course, stupid. The American people, and thus their political leaders, will instinctively line up behind the president in the face of a direct challenge from abroad. Unless the country in question is Israel.

Witness the events of recent days: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, seems to have decided that it's open season on Barack Obama. In his speech this week in New Orleans before the general assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Netanyahu not only repeated his longstanding view that Iran will curb its nuclear program only in the face of a credible threat of military action, but added -- gratuitously, and with questionable accuracy -- that the regime had stopped trying to build a bomb only in 2003, when it feared an attack by President-You-Know-Who.

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The Middle East Channel

Want to defuse the Iran crisis?

 

Sometime in the next few weeks, if the parties can agree on a place and date convenient to all sides, Iran and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the "P5+1," will meet for the first time since October 2009 to revive diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program. This is welcome news for U.S. President Barack Obama who, almost two years into his first term, has learned the hard way that diplomacy with Iran is neither quick nor easy.

The posturing has already begun. To create greater political space at home, administration officials have told the media that a new and tougher proposal will be presented to the Iranians. The United States will negotiate from a position of strength, the White House says, as a result of the surprisingly harsh sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, both by the U.N. Security Council and unilaterally by individual countries.

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BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images