Israel tight-lipped on Obama-Rouhani phone call


Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, uses a diagram of a bomb to describe Iran's nuclear program at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012.


Don Emmert

NORTHERN GALILEE, Israel — Israel had no official reaction Friday to the surprise announcement that US President Barack Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke after a 34-year rupture in relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the foreign ministry issued no statement.

News of the conversation, reportedly a 10-minute phone call, broke late in the night on Friday, Israel time.

Midnight radio news bulletins led with two reports emanating from the United States: the first about the historic Obama-Rouhani call, the second on the agreement between the United States and Russia over disarming Syria of chemical weapons.

Israel, threatened both by Iran and by Syria, is central to both matters, yet finds itself on the sidelines of the international discussions now making headlines.

Earlier on Friday, several Israeli news outlets reported that Iran is significantly closer to the production of weapons-grade uranium than previously acknowledged — possibly only two months away from the production of a bomb. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed as much in February this year, before Rouhani took office.

One daily, Ma'ariv, reported Friday that Israeli government sources claim Iran already possesses at least one nuclear bomb.  

“We are facing a historic change in the strategic balance of forces in the region,” the Hebrew-language paper wrote.

In an interview Thursday, Hebrew University Iran expert Eldad Pardo told GlobalPost that "Iran is extremely close, very, very close to the ability to produce a nuclear weapon."

If confirmed, the capability would put Obama's contact with Rouhani in an entirely different and urgent context, in which a major shift in regional power had already taken place.

It would also put the onus on Obama, who has repeatedly stated that the United States will not stand by if Iran achieves nuclear weapons capacity.

On Friday, Obama said he sees a chance to “reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” in spite of the “difficult history” between Iran and the US.

“I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution,” he said from the White House.

“Iran’s Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons. I have made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent, and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place."