In particular, Obama and Netanyahu, appearing at an evening news conference, reached what seemed to be a consensus regarding Iran’s uranium-enrichment program.
Iran denies that the program is designed to develop a nuclear weapon, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Netanyahu and Obama, who advocates a diplomatic solution to the matter, have disagreed over how much time remains before a military strike against Iran is necessary to slow down the program.
Obama said recently that he thinks Iran is a year from achieving a nuclear-weapons capability, a timeline that has differed from Israeli assessments. On Wednesday, Netanyahu moved closer to Obama’s timeline — and even softened his certainty about Iran’s intent — to allow more space for diplomacy.
“I think that there’s a misunderstanding about time,” Netanyahu said. “If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon — that is, to actually manufacture the weapon — then it will take them about a year.”
Obama, in turn, reiterated his support for Israel’s right to self-defense. He pledged to seek additional funding for the Iron Dome system, which he saw when he swung by an anti-missile battery after his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport.
The system, which shot down hundreds of Gaza-fired rockets in November, will receive $200 million in U.S. funding this fiscal year. Obama said he and Netanyahu will begin talks to extend the U.S.-Israeli military aid agreement beyond its current 2017 expiration.
“Israel’s security needs are truly unique, as I’ve seen myself,” Obama said. “And flying in today, I saw again how Israel’s security can be measured in mere miles and minutes.”
The warm display by Obama and Netanyahu comes against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Middle East, shifting politically and culturally through war, protest and elections.
It is too soon to tell whether the two leaders have overcome past differences, which have played out in venues as public as the Oval Office. But the signs of a stronger U.S.-Israel relationship may put new pressure on Iran’s leaders, who Obama said Wednesday must be convinced that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Obama’s visit to the prime minister’s official residence featured a surprising levity between two men whose public posture together has more often than not been dour, angry and hectoring.
Upon arrival at Netanyahu’s residence, Obama invited the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, to stand between the two for a photo. “A rose between the thorns,” Obama joked.