Israelis Want U.S. To Focus More On Iran Israel's President Shimon Peres is in Washington for a meeting with President Obama on Tuesday. On the agenda will be the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Iran's suspected nuclear program. Some people in Israel want Iran to be the No. 1 priority.
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Israelis Want U.S. To Focus More On Iran

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Israelis Want U.S. To Focus More On Iran

Israelis Want U.S. To Focus More On Iran

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The president of Israel will be meeting tomorrow in Washington with President Obama. Later this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be here as well. They'll be discussing restarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. They'll also be talking about Iran.

From Jerusalem, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports that there's a growing movement in Israel to make Iran the number one priority.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Prime Minister Netanyahu has used almost every public forum here to denounce Iran in a way that is sure to catch the attention of the Israeli public. Here he's speaking on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Israel): (Through translator) We will not allow the Holocaust deniers to carry out another holocaust against the Jewish people. This is the supreme duty of the state of Israel. This is my supreme duty as prime minister of Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The not-so-subtle message coming from the Israeli government is that it will use any means necessary to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Ygal Palmor is an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman.

Mr. YGAL PALMOR (Spokesman, Israeli foreign ministry): Everything must be done and no option should be discarded when trying to convince the Iranians that they should not spend their money on trying to lay their hands on a nuclear bomb. And if we really want to work for peace and stability in this region, the priority would be to deal with Iran.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So far the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu has not endorsed working towards the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Palestinians have their own sovereign nation alongside Israel. Palestinians say Netanyahu's focus on Iran is a way of putting those negotiations on the back burner.

Mr. MUHIB AWAD (Member, Palestinian Legislative Council): (Through translator) I say with great confidence that the agenda of this Israeli government does not include any intention of proceeding in a peace process with the Palestinians.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Muhib Awad is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Mr. AWAD: (Through translator) Israel wants to link the Palestinian issue to the Iranian issue in order to evade reaching a solution. It's a form of Israeli procrastination.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at Hebrew University, says the fear of Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is very real among the Israeli population.

Professor YARON EZRAHI (Political Science, Hebrew University): Nobody should underestimate what the Israeli public feels this man is leading a process of building an atomic bomb.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Netanyahu's rhetoric is increasing that alarm. Some here believe Israel could launch a unilateral military operation aimed at destroying or at least damaging Iran's nuclear infrastructure. But Ezrahi says Israel cannot act against Iran without the support of America.

At present, the Obama administration is committed to diplomatic engagement with Iran as well as a forceful push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Ezrahi says that rather than putting them at loggerheads, it gives the U.S. a lot of leverage with Netanyahu.

Prof. EZRAHI: I think now the crisis with Iran and the situation in our region offers a new opportunity that American presidents rarely have to do the job of actual progress between Israel and the Palestinians.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ezrahi says Netanyahu can't risk a crisis in relations with Washington.

Prof. EZRAHI: If Netanyahu alienates Obama and his government in their process to achieve regional peace, then Netanyahu risk his political survival as the prime minister of Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In comments made just before leaving for Washington, President Peres downplayed the prospects of a military attack against Iran. He said attacking the nuclear sites is not the only option.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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