From the get-go, Obama had a frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. “There’s no question that tension grew between the two, because we felt like … they had a different estimation [of the timeline for Iran to get nuclear-weapons capability],” says the Pentagon source, “and we felt like some of their [kinetic] activities undermined what we were trying to do. Obama’s view was, why would you remove the opportunity for a diplomatic solution for something that was so incrementally significant [as killing a scientist]?”
That trust deficit was exacerbated in May of last year when Obama delivered a landmark speech outlining his wider Middle East policy. Netanyahu was preparing to fly to Washington at the time and was surprised when he heard the president state that the 1967 borders should be a basis for negotiating the final frontiers of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu believed he had an understanding with Obama that some Jewish settlements built in areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 war would remain inside Israel, a position detailed in a 2004 letter from President Bush to then–prime minister Ariel Sharon. When Netanyahu finally arrived at the Oval Office, he was furious. At a photo op with the two leaders, Netanyahu began to lecture the president on Israel’s security needs before the gathered journalists.