Israel’s prime minister wants to score points at home, but with his planned address to the U.S. Congress, he will be stabbing everybody working toward a Middle East peace compromise in the back.
Despite all the bitter criticism from his own country and from America, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sticking with it: He will address the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, and with his powerful and sonorous voice, he will warn the world of how dangerous it would be to sign a nuclear agreement with Iran.
With carefully chosen words, Netanyahu will tick off Tehran’s numerous ties to international terrorism. He will allege there is new evidence uncovered by Israeli intelligence concerning Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program. And he will say the world cannot afford to trust the duplicitous Iranian regime, and that in the end, it’s not only about Israel’s very existence, it’s about global peace and security.
Netanyahu’s objections to the Iranian nuclear program can’t be dismissed as totally wrong; some of them must be taken seriously. The bottom line is that the negotiated agreement would not permanently rein in Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. It would do so only temporarily.
But Netanyahu’s objections lose strength due to the fact that so many of his earlier warnings and prognoses missed the mark so widely, such as his support for the Iraq War, which in the end only made things worse in the Middle East. He mistakenly prophesied that it would be inconceivable and futile to hope that Western sanctions against Iran would have any long-term effect in forcing it to return to the negotiating table. He was also mistaken to think the Tehran regime would never abide by an interim agreement.
But Netanyahu’s concerns will mainly fall on deaf ears because in addressing Congress, he comes off as a bull in a diplomatic china shop. He is not only alienating the Obama administration, but he is also deceiving the British, French, Russian, Chinese and Germans. Netanyahu is stabbing all those who have been working for years to find a negotiated settlement with Iran in the back.
But that’s not important to the Israeli prime minister. The aim of his mission in America is directed squarely at his own people. In two weeks, he faces re-election, and with or without accomplishments to put on display, he at least wants to come off as the ultimate savior of the Israeli people, a macho fighter in war or peace unafraid to face down any threat. The House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. is the perfect stage upon which to act out that presentation.
And Netanyahu thinks nothing is off limits in pursuing his goal. He made a secret pact with Obama’s political opponents and finagled – with the help of his Republican friends – an invitation to address Congress without letting the White House know about it. He was aided in that project by the Israeli ambassador, himself a former Republican operative.
Because Netanyahu wanted to deliver his speech from the center of world power, he brushed off all warnings of any possible negative diplomatic blowback. Even his own national security adviser wrote that the well-informed U.S. magazine, The Atlantic, advised against Netanyahu’s trip.
The Israeli-U.S. rift goes deep and affects far more than just the already-tarnished relationship between Netanyahu and Obama. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, correctly notes that Netanyahu’s appearance would be “destructive” to U.S.-Israeli relations. Ironically, the no-nonsense Rice has always been a dedicated defender of Israel’s security concerns. It was she in the government who backed increased U.S. military support to Israel, including the Iron Dome anti-missile shield, which, during the last hostilities in Gaza, successfully took out many Hamas missiles while they were still airborne.
Tensions between the two nations have always existed, but there has never been an Israeli leader who has made such vehement rants against the United States. In solidarity with their president, several senators and representatives plan to boycott Netanyahu’s address, a number that has increased since Netanyahu turned down an invitation from Democrats to meet afterward with them.
Netanyahu Also Angers American Jews
The prime minister has also succeeded in alienating many American Jews who voted repeatedly for Obama when he ran. For weeks now, the liberal J-Street organization has been running full-page ads against Netanyahu’s visit, and even the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is angry and writes in the Times of Israel newspaper that there will come a day of atonement for Israel.
On the same day as Netanyahu’s address to Congress, AIPAC will hold its annual meeting not far from Capitol Hill. In previous years, the U.S. secretary of state, vice president or Obama himself attended the meeting. None of them will attend this year’s meeting, and it was unknown for some time whether the administration would send any representative at all. At the last minute, they decided to send Security Adviser Rice and United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to represent the administration.
And so it goes in Israel, just as it does in America: Liberal as well as conservative commentators had warned for weeks about unknown and unintended political consequences that might arise from Netanyahu’s unauthorized visit. There are already complaints that the U.S. is no longer sharing all its intelligence with Israel. Perhaps the U.S. might also rethink its UN veto strategy and no longer cast vetoes that always benefit Israel.
It may not get that bad that quickly, but the damage Israel has done to its friend and ally is immense. One thing is certain: The next Israeli prime minister will have to sweep up the shards of the American-Israeli relationship and try to glue them all back together. The new prime minister will also be forced to be more conciliatory and ready to compromise. Seen that way, perhaps, this diplomatic catastrophe could still have a positive conclusion.