US President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared that when it comes to nuclear negotiations with Iran “no deal is better than a bad deal,” but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear this week that his position is “no deal is better than any deal.”
His goal in coming to Washington next month is not to toughen the American bargaining position but to undercut it entirely, and along the way cooperate with a congressional GOP agenda to embarrass a president he despises. If there were any doubts, he cleared them up in Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“We will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement,” he declared, although he, like everybody else, doesn’t actually know what’s in an agreement yet to be agreed upon.
“The major powers and Iran are galloping toward an agreement that will enable Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons, which will endanger the existence of the State of Israel,” he said.
It is appropriate for the leader of the Jewish state to warn against the potential threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist supporting government that has vowed to wipe Israel off the map. Netanyahu has helped alert the international community to the dangers and, with American leadership, institute a regime of tough economic and diplomatic pressure that has brought Iran to the negotiating table.
With that record of achievement, it is difficult to understand why the prime minister has been conducting such self-destructive political warfare against the leadership of his country’s most important – and sometimes only – ally.
In his assault on the Obama administration he is doing serious damage to his relations with Washington and, more importantly, to Israel. His ambassador, who engineered the assault, has rendered himself useless, if not counter-productive, as far as the executive branch and many in Congress are concerned.
Loyalty has never been one of Netanyahu’s greatest virtues – just ask his three wives – and now he may be turning on the man who officially invited him to address the Congress, Speaker John Boehner.
One of Netanyahu’s closest confidantes, deputy foreign minister Tzachi Hanegbi, has suggested that Boehner misled the prime minister into thinking the speech had been cleared with the Democrats, if not the White House.
If anyone misled Netanyahu, which is questionable, it was his protégé and ambassador Ron Dermer, a longtime partisan Republican operative before making aliya. He’s the one who brokered the deal and kept it a secret from the administration.
He also has blamed Boehner for the secrecy.
Netanyahu says it is essential that he speak in Washington so everyone will understand the Iranian threat. Does he really think members of Congress and the American public are that stupid that they don’t already know? That sound you’re hearing from Tehran and Arab capitals is the chant, “Go, Bibi, Go.” They’re delighted to see how Netanyahu has done more to damage US-Israeli relations than they could ever dream of.
Netanyahu is coming to Washington to back Republican demands for passage of two-pronged legislation that the administration has threatened to veto. The bill before the Congress would not only impose tough new sanctions that the major powers and Iran have said are deal breakers in the negotiations, but – more importantly – require an up or down congressional vote on any agreement. Is that because he knows that the Republican Congress would oppose – at a minimum by adding poison-pill amendments – any agreement Obama would bring them, effectively killing it? Obama said Monday, “It does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they’re about to be completed, and we should play that out.”
Netanyahu’s latest statements validate those who say the Israeli leader will only be satisfied if the talks totally fail. That, of course, would leave the military option.
Many feel his real goal remains a US military strike on Iran. If his game with the GOP reinforces the impression that he wants to push America into another costly, possibly unwinnable war, the damage to US-Israel relations could be incalculable.
The target date for a framework agreement is March 24 and a comprehensive deal by June 30. Both sides have said there will be no more extensions.
That Netanyahu’s congressional speech just two weeks prior to the Israeli elections further politicizes the event.
Vice President Joe Biden, arguably Israel’s best friend in the administration, is leaving town so he won’t have to attend the speech. A growing number of American Jewish leaders are urging Netanyahu to stay home – most notably the ADL’s Abe Foxman and Reform Movement leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs – while several groups on the Right, funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major Netanyahu backer, are threatening revenge on those lawmakers who don’t show up for The Speech, even if it undermines the traditional bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.
The Republican Jewish Coalition’s Matt Brooks puts it clearly: the choice for members of Congress, particularly Democrats, is “stand with” Netanyahu or Obama.
“We will commit whatever resources we need,” he said, “to make sure that people are aware of the facts, that given the choice to stand with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu in opposition to a nuclear Iran, they chose partisan interests and to stand with President Obama.”
One of the most strident voices in the American Jewish community is Zionist Organization of America’s Mort Klein, who called those who stay away from Netanyahu’s speech “anti-American, anti-patriotic.”
He accused Obama of being “more sympathetic to our enemy Iran than to our major ally, Israel,” conveniently forgetting that Obama is responsible to the American people, not the Likud.
Netanyahu says he is coming to Washington to speak on behalf of all the Jewish people, another gross exaggeration by this king of exaggerators. In reality, he speaks only for his caretaker government. In recent elections, his party hasn’t even won a quarter of the vote. That’s hardly an impressive mandate at home, and it’s even more absurd to think that he speaks for six million American Jews.
The blowback from the firestorm ignited by Boehner, Netanyahu and Dermer will keep burning for a long time, much to the delight of Israel’s enemies.