Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Ottawa Friday, expected to seek Canada’s support for any future actions against Iran before he moves on to a less-friendly reception in Washington.
Canadian officials have been touting the country as Israel’s “best friend,” at a time when U.S. President Barack Obama has distanced his administration from Mr. Netanyahu.
The Israeli Prime Minister leaves Sunday for Washington, with observers anticipating he hopes to use freshly committed Canadian support as leverage when he meets with Mr. Obama on Monday.
“Clearly Netanyahu would like to put pressure on the Obama administration to support a more muscular, meaning possibly military, response to Iran’s nuclear program. He knows full well that there’s zero enthusiasm for that in the United States,” said Rex Brynen, a McGill University political science professor and Middle East analyst.
“He’s trying to create more pressure on the President and to do that I think it makes some sense to talk to Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper whom he knows is kind of his ideological soulmate on this issue and is likely to support him, just in the sense of creating momentum. Whether it has any impact on Washington I think is negligible.”
Indeed Mr. Harper has shown a very pro-Netanyahu position in the past few weeks in regards to Iran, said Houchang Hassan-Yari, a Middle East specialist at Queen’s University and Royal Military College. “So for Mr. Netanyahu this is a good opportunity to come to his friend and to maybe get support for his position in regards to Iran, politically or morally,”
Mr. Netanyahu told his Cabinet this week there is “no doubt” that the issue of how Israel can protect itself from the “continued strengthening of Iran and its nuclear program” will be at the centre of talks on his North American trip.
Mr. Harper’s majority Conservatives are perhaps the most likely government to back Israel on a file much of the international community has so far shied away from, he said.
Mr. Harper’s warning last month about Iran’s “dangerous” development of a nuclear arms program may also prompt the Israeli Prime Minister to request Canada’s support for “initiating war” against Iran — something the Obama administration is less likely to offer up, Mr. Hassan-Yari said.
Recent western trade sanctions on Iran are already hurting the country’s economy, Mr. Hassan-Yari said, and Mr. Harper could be in a position to ask his Israeli counterpart to hold out and see if the sanctions will really make an impact before considering military options.
Hoping to placate Israel, Mr. Obama has pointedly refused to rule out military action, saying “all options remain on the table” and insisting the U.S. would never accept a nuclear-armed Iran.
But Mr. Netanyahu wants the U.S. President to set the threshold for military action lower, according to officials in the Israeli government, bringing it into line with Israel’s “red lines.” Mr. Netanyahu has also said he does not believe the sanctions have done enough.
“In Canada, I think Israel sees one of the countries that truly appreciates what the stakes are and why it’s so necessary for us to leave no stone unturned in the effort to make sanctions work,” said Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Ottawa.
He expects Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama will have a discussion about the Israeli leader’s visit before Mr. Netanyahu makes it to Washington, so that the President can be in the loop on what was discussed during the visit to Canada.