Netanyahu Talks Football, Nuclear Bombs and Iran While Avoiding 2012 Race [VIDEOS]

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on September 16 2012 3:02 PM
Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu attends weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu attends weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appearances on two Sunday morning talk shows refocused attention on the specter of a nuclear Iran at a time when the world's eyes have been fixed upon anti-American demonstrations peppering predominantly Muslim countries around the world.

Netanyahu -- who lived in the U.S. in his youth -- is one of the few foreign leaders with the domestic heft to spark a national debate, and deploys it with some degree of reserve. But his prolonged use of football metaphors and color-coded lines to describe Iran's nuclear progress during his two interviews comes amid Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's oft-repeated accusation that President Barack Obama has thrown Israel "under the bus," along with reports of an increasingly strained relationship between the two leaders and nations.

Netanyahu, speaking from Israel in a pre-recorded interview before the Jewish New Year began at sundown, downplayed the political fallout of his scrums with the White House, and dismissed Romney's remarks.

"There's no bus, and we're not going to get into that discussion," he said during NBC's "Meet the Press," adding his relationship with Obama is not nearly as strained as reports would imply.

Host David Gregory questioned whether Netanyahu's motives were political, trying to sway the American electorate toward Romney, perceived to be a stronger supporter of Israel's bellicose threats to Iran.

"There you go again, David. You're trying to draw me into something that is simply not the case, and it's not my position," he said. "I have no doubt that [Obama and Romney are] equally committed to preventing that. It's a vital American interest. ... We're united on this across the board."

The prime minister instead took to American football metaphors to describe the extent of Iran's nuclear progress.

"They're in the red zone," he said. "You know, they're in the last 20 yards and you can't let them cross that goal line. You can't let them score a touchdown because that would have unbelievable consequences -- grievous consequences for the peace and security of us all, of the world really."

The "red zone" talk follows the latest Middle East buzzword, "red lines," meant to demark when military intervention to stop Iran's progress is necessary. The Obama administration's stance remains less hawkish, ramping up economic sanctions to pressure Iran into line until a definitive answer on its nuclear progress is provided.

Netanyahu and Romney's "red line" remains at preventing Iran from even developing the capability -- the mix of delivery technology and combustible atomic goo -- to create a bomb. Obama's may be actual possession of a bomb, although the distinction may seem slight to some.

"Once the Iranians understand that there's a line that they cannot cross, they're not likely to cross it," Netanyahu said. "Iran has been placed with some clear red lines on a few matters, and they've avoided crossing them."

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Netanyahu's appearance most likely serves as a response to the Obama administration's public downplaying of Israeli concerns, most recently by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who mocked the notion of "red lines" in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine this week.

"The fact is, look, presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country -- leaders of these countries don't have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions," he said. "What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation. I mean, that's the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, meanwhile, tried to allay concerns of a policy gap between Obama and Netanyahu in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."

"President Obama has been absolutely clear and on this there's absolutely no daylight between the United States and Israel, that we will do what it takes to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," she said. "We are not at that stage yet. They do not have a nuclear weapon. Our shared intelligence assessments is that there is still considerable time and space before they will have a nuclear weapon should they make the decision to go for that."

Yet to take the Israeli leader's strained analogy to its logical conclusion, you don't need to throw a bomb to score a touchdown from the 20-yard line.

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