But U.S. officials are not convinced, and many within the administration fear that a preemptive Israeli attack could set off a regional war. This disagreement between the United States and Israel will color the meeting between two leaders often at odds over how best to navigate the changing Middle East.
The White House talks are likely to focus on the effectiveness of sanctions and the dangers of an Israeli attack, administration officials say. Obama will seek to avoid discussing the details of how one might unfold out of concern that Israel might interpret such planning as a veiled endorsement of military action.
“We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel,” said an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
For Obama, the political stakes are high. With his approval ratings improving on the strength of a better economy, he still faces the intertwined election-year threats of rising gas prices and the possibility of a military confrontation involving an oil-rich Iran. The issue preoccupies the White House but does not resonate as urgently among Israelis.
How Obama intends to convey his message of patience to Netanyahu, a security hawk who faces political pressures of his own, will entail a measure of public showmanship and private diplomacy.
Administration officials say Obama will attempt to reassure Israel of U.S. resolve while also urging patience and signaling to Iran that the two allies agree on the importance of stopping it from getting a nuclear weapon.
In an interview published Friday in the Atlantic magazine, Obama said that “the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff.”
But he suggested that any Israeli strike on Iran before international oil and gas sanctions take effect this summer would undermine the tenuous unity the United States and its allies have built to oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Privately, White House officials say the coalition would explode with the first Israeli airstrike.
“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally [Syria] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as the victim?” Obama said in the interview.
Israeli leaders are operating on a far shorter timeline for military action than the United States, which has the ability to fly multiple sorties over days or weeks and drop larger, more sophisticated bombs that would damage even the most well-protected of Iranian nuclear facilities.