I just wrapped up a brief conversation with Congressman Eliot Engel, a Democratic Representative from New York who has a long history of support for Israel. Congressman Engel appeared very pleased with President Obama’s speech and was “especially happy to hear that the President is not looking for containment” toward Iran. Ultimately, Engel said, the speech “set the tone for the meeting tomorrow.”
Just over two weeks ago, Engel, along with fellow New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, met with President Netanyahu in Israel on a trip to Israel on Feb. 20, and according to Engel’s wife Pat, the three politicians “talked about Iran, and then they talked about Iran, and then they talked about Iran.” Engel clearly emerged from the meeting well aware of the difficulties of aligning American and Israeli clocks on engaging a military option on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“The United States military capability [to strike Iranian facilities] is greater than Israel’s military,” Engel said. “The US can make a decision based on our assessment of when [Iran reaches] the point of no return. Israel has less options. Their window is a smaller window.”
Finally, Engel echoed the President’s belief that Israel is in charge of its own security decisions, a sentiment that was in turn an echo of statements coming from the Israeli government itself. “Ultimately,” Engel told me, “Prime Minister Netanyahu has got to make decisions as to whether Israel needs to move.”
And then, a sentence that could be as much targeted at his own government and President as that of Israel: “A lot of that decision will come from the meeting with President Obama tomorrow.”