Israel's Netanyahu to raise Iran during visit with Harper

Iran's nuclear program and security in the Middle East are expected to dominate the agenda when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa today.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Prime Minister Stephen Harper following a meeting on Parliament Hill in 2010. The two leaders are meeting again in Ottawa Friday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Iran's nuclear program is expected to top the agenda when Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ottawa today.

Harper will welcome Netanyahu on Parliament Hill shortly after 11 a.m. ET. They will have a short bilateral meeting, then speak to the media. Netanyahu will also meet Friday with Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall.

Security in the Middle East and the continuing violence in Syria are expected to be discussed by the two leaders, but earlier in the week, Netanyahu said Iran will be at the centre of talks with Harper and with U.S. President Barack Obama, when he meets with him Monday. 

Netanyahu is travelling to Washington after his visit in Ottawa. He and Obama will both deliver speeches at a policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The Israeli leader has recently been suggesting his country is considering launching a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Houchang Hassan-Yari, a Middle East expert at Queen's University and Royal Military College, said Netanyahu will likely be seeking support from Harper for that position, particularly given what Harper has said about Iran in recent months.

Harper has been strong in backing Israel's view of Iran's program, saying he has "no doubt" that Iran is lying when it says it is pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes and is not building a nuclear bomb.

In an exclusive interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge in January, Harper said the Iranian regime frightens him.

"In my judgment, these are people who have a particular, you know, a fanatically religious worldview, and their statements imply to me no hesitation about using nuclear weapons if they see them achieving their religious or political purposes. And … I think that’s what makes this regime in Iran particularly dangerous."

Hassan-Yari said he doesn't expect Friday's meeting to be a one-way conversation dominated by Netanyahu. Harper has some leverage, he said.

"Prime Minister Harper, because of his very close relations and defence of Israel and the Israelis, is in a very good position really to tell Mr. Netanyahu what President Obama, the prime minister of the [United Kingdom], the president of France and others have tried to say: that Israel would be better off if it waits for some time to see what would be the real effect of sanctions before engaging in any military activities," he said.

 "This is the leverage that our prime minister has, I believe, and he can use it. He's in a position to advise Mr. Netanyahu to be more cautious."

The cautious approach is one the Americans have been urging Israel to take, and Hassan-Yari said there could be some significance to Netanyahu visiting Ottawa before heading south of the border.

"I think the fact that he is coming to Canada before the U.S. might show that he has more faith in the Canadian prime minister than the U.S. president," he said.