Three delegations of senior U.S. national security officials made the case against an Israeli strike in visits to that country over the past month. They argued that launching a strike before the last possible moment, and without international support, would do more harm than good.
It could actually make Israel less safe by angering neighbors that don't like either Israel or Iran but would be forced to side with Iran in the event it is attacked, the U.S. has argued. In that sense, an attack coming from Israel could be even more polarizing in the region than one launched by the United States.
An Israeli strike would also be unlikely to eradicate the Iranian nuclear program, and would at best set it back a few years, the U.S. argument goes. In the end, the Iranian program could grow back stronger.
"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 a victim?" Obama asked in the interview.
Israel takes little comfort in the U.S. assessment, reiterated Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, that Tehran has not decided whether to build a nuclear bomb.
Israel has refused to guarantee any notice to the U.S. ahead of time, a U.S. intelligence source told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because much of the planning for Iran is classified. A preemptive Israeli strike would probably be similar to Israel's 1981 strike on an Iraqi weapons site that Israeli officials cite as a success.
Iran's nuclear ambitions pose a "grave threat to the peace and security of the world," Netanyahu said, and other nations cannot stand by and allow it to happen. In the past he has likened the growing Iranian nuclear threat to the risk that Nazi Germany represented before the Holocaust.
"As for Israel, like any sovereign country, we reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country, against a country that calls and works for our destruction," Netanyahu said Friday.
The meeting and Obama's address to the lobby will also revisit what the U.S. sees as lackluster Israeli efforts toward peace with the Palestinians. It's a sore subject, despite Obama's strong defense of Israeli actions before the United Nations and in other venues. Before his AIPAC speech last year, Obama outlined U.S. terms for resuming Palestinian peace talks that infuriated Netanyahu and many Israel supporters in the United States.
Netanyahu speaks to the group's annual conference Monday evening.
The group's influence and the importance of Jewish voters in American politics have made its glossy Washington conference a must-do for both American and Israeli politicians. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will also address the group this year
Associated Press writer Amy Teibel contributed to this report from Ottawa.
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