Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took to the airwaves Sept. 16 to discuss the mounting danger of a nuclear Iran. In his appearances on CNN’s "State of the Union" and NBC’s "Meet the Press", Netanyahu criticized Barack Obama’s lack of attention to Iran’s nuclear weapon program and promising protection should Israel be attacked.
Despite the long history of Israeli preoccupation with the potential for a nuclear Iran, Netanyahu’s remarks come at a salient moment. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s most recent report concludes that Iran has a sufficient amount of uranium enriched for at least one nuclear weapon. However, this uranium is only enriched by 20 percent and is a long way from becoming the 90 percent enriched necessary to be weapon-grade.
Jeffrey Lewis, the man who runs the arms control blog “ArmsControlWonk” said that, while Netanyahu’s claim that Iran is six months from a bomb proves scientifically possible, it would be unlikely in reality. “Iran is 90 percent of the way there ” he said to the New York Post.
Lewis was quick to qualify this initial remark. “Ninety percent is not one hundred percent... I believe that both Washington and Tehran are confident that the international community would detect an effort to use Natanz or Fordow [Iranian facilities] to enrich to weapons grade with enough time to intervene before Iran could produce a working nuclear device,” he said.
Netanyahu’s remarks have also been seen as a way for the Israeli leader to gain a voice in the presidential campaign. Netanyahu has criticized Obama several times for failing to take clearer actions to protect the Middle East from a nuclear Iran, driving home the point by speaking to the press Sept. 16.
Despite the practical considerations of this criticism, Netanyahu also has a personal connection to the campaign as he and Mitt Romney have been personal friends since working together as young men in Boston finance.
“By putting pressure on Obama now, and sowing the seeds of suspicion and doubt - especially with those many Americans who wrongly think that Obama is a secret Muslim - Netanyahu is helping Romney, and by helping Romney, Netanyahu appears to be helping himself at home,” John Stoehr said, considering a possible motive for Netanyahu's remarks, in the New Statesman.
Even in light of this friendship, Romney’s campaign has made little clear about his position on Israel. Although he claims to be more of an ally to Israel than Obama has been, specific proposals are hard to come by from either candidate.
Ultimately, Netanyahu’s criticisms of Obama and suspicion of Iran’s nuclear activity will likely go unnoticed by the American public.
Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, identified the politics at work. "You have two presidential candidates working away to see who can get the most votes, and an Israeli prime minister working to figure out how to get the most American support," Cordesman said to the New York Post.