Benjamin Netanyahu keeps coming up with new ways to placate Barack Obama. First he acknowledged a two-state solution for the first time, delivered to a far-right audience a mere ten days after Obama’s celebrated Cairo address. Now comes this interesting tidbit, in an interview with the German newspaper Bild: “There is no conflict between the Iranian people and the people of Israel and under a different regime the friendly relations that prevailed in the past could be restored.” He continued: “What we have seen in Iran is a powerful desire on the part of the Iranian people to be free.”
This may sound like head-of-state boilerplate, and it’s true that nothing earth-shattering is disclosed in wishing a brutalized population the very best. (Israeli President Shimon Peres is generally much more ebullient about the massive protests engulfing Iran and being met with murderous, theocratic reaction.) However, compare Netanyahu’s mild encouragement to what Mossad head Meir Dagan said to a Knesset committee last week:
The reality in Iran is not going to change because of the elections. The world and we already know Ahmadinejad. If the reformist candidate Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat, since Mousavi is perceived internationally arena as a moderate element. … It is important to remember that he is the one who began Iran’s nuclear program when he was prime minister.
Mousavi has been held under a microscope since becoming the public face of Iranian revolt, and Dagan did little more than express one conventional view among stateside Jewish organizations and Israel hawks that a flamboyant nasty like Ahmadinejad is better PR for preemption. But there’s not even a whiff of optimism in Dagan’s view, nothing that hints that the people of Iran genuinely want a different form of government and would happily vote away Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khameini if given a true and proper chance. But Netanyahu, typically the hawk’s hawk, is sounding softer than his chief of intelligence. If he’s moving toward the center—however conditionally—on Palestinian statehood, then Obama’s strategy of pressuring his administration would seem to be working.