Opinion: Why Netanyahu Will Trump Obama in the Iran Nuclear Deal Showdown
The prophets of doom are out in full force predicting the great harm that will befall Israel as a result of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat.
Forgive me, but I just don’t see it that way. Israel and Netanyahu have everything to gain from the speech and relatively little to lose. And, as in the past when Obama and Netanyahu have publicly gone head to head, the Israeli premier will emerge the diplomatic victor.
Firstly, all the talk about the “fabric” of the US-Israel relationship being undermined, or the claim that support for Israel is becoming partisan is hardly credible. The pitifully small number of lawmakers who have said they will skip Netanyahu’s talk serves as testament to that. Recent polls show that the American public supports the Jewish State’s right to express its concerns about Iran and the mostly full attendance at the speech is a reflection of that.
Additionally, the bulk of US-Israel cooperation, including the extensive shared military, intelligence and research ventures as well as US aid to Israel, is overseen by Congress and the Pentagon.
A legitimate cause for concern is that Netanyahu’s speech risks inviting some act of vengeance from a spiteful Administration that views Netanyahu’s talk as a slight. The comments coming from John Kerry, Susan Rice and unnamed officials should be viewed as threats, not as observations.
But what steps can the White House consider that would be worse for Israel to countenance than a nuclear armed Iran? The White House may refrain from vetoing a Palestinian Authority move for recognition at the United Nations Security Council, but, if faced with a choice, I imagine Israel would rather take the opportunity to convince Congress to impose its oversight on Iranian negotiations, which would likely serve as the final barrier to the implementation of a bad deal.
Additionally, with the Administration’s foreign policy increasingly maligned domestically, further drastic steps against Israel are liable to further isolate the White House.
On top of all this, it might be recalled that before President Obama’s reelection in 2012, it was widely alleged that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his perceived backing of Obama’s rival Mitt Romney, had invited fire and brimstone upon the Jewish State. But it seems clear that Obama’s attitude towards Israel is no product of any one particular action taken by any Israeli leader, only a result of his innate worldview that harbors far less sympathy for Israel’s unique challenges than his predecessors have expressed.
The truth is that there is no thin skin epidemic at the White House, which had nothing to say about Iranian foreign minister Zarif’s shouting episodes during negotiations with John Kerry. The “crisis” with Israel has been manufactured because the White House doesn’t like what Netanyahu has to say, and so they are working diligently to undermine it.
Another argument against the speech was made by Robert Kagan in the Washingon Post, who said, that “bringing a foreign leader before Congress to challenge a US president’s policies is unprecedented.”
But Netanyahu is not just any foreign leader; he is the leader of a closely allied state that has a profound interest in the outcome of the talks with Iran, especially since they have effectively tied his hands with respect to other actions that Israel may have been considering against the Islamic Republic. Israel is repeatedly singled out as Iran’s first target for destruction, so before the American administration takes control of Israel’s fate in a way that leaves it feeling vulnerable, surely Israel must be allowed to state its case to the American people.
In an interview on Friday on PBS, New York Times columnist David Brooks said, “I think it’s political disaster for Bibi Netanyahu back home, because they’re — most Israelis are really worried about the state of the relationship.”
This argument may have stood up in the past, but in the case of President Obama, the opposite is true. He is so hated in Israel that standing up to him can only help Netanyahu electorally.
There have been times in his presidency that the number of people in Israel who considered Obama to be pro-Israel hovered around 4%, a figure that is traditionally within a poll’s margin of error.
In the Israeli elections of early 2013, the two political parties that aligned themselves with Obama’s criticism of Netanyahu on the Iranian issue, the Labor party, at the time headed by Shelly Yachimovich, and Hatnuah led by Tzipi Livni, underperformed considerably.
In terms of what will be gained from the speech, firstly, it is clear that Netanyahu, known for his cautious, consensus based leadership style, and criticized at home for lacking a backbone, believed he had no choice but to seize the opportunity to address Congress.
Had he stayed at home, his timidity may have been viewed by the Iranians and others as a de-facto acquiescence to Obama’s deal making with Iran. His other option, to talk less and take military action if the need arose – as his domestic political opponent Avigdor Lieberman has reportedly advised, would likely bring about far greater friction with Obama’s White House and other countries around the world, not to mention the potential loss of life that would likely follow the inevitable Iranian blowback.
In his recent comments, Netanyahu has focused strictly on the issues and has remained supremely deferential and even supplicatory in references to both the US-Israel relationship and to President Obama.
“I would like to take this opportunity to say that I respect US President Barack Obama,” he said before leaving Israel for the US. “I believe in the strength of the relationship between Israel and the US and in their strength to overcome differences of opinion, those that have been and those that will yet be.”
There was no reciprocity from the US President. The White House has expressed little sympathy over what the looming threat of a nuclear Iran means to the lives of millions of Israelis, as well as Jews around the world who have been targeted by Iranian terror proxies. Where is the understanding for Israeli concerns? All we have yet seen is snide dismissals from Obama’s lackeys.
But the main reason why Netanyahu’s calculated gamble will ultimately pay off is because he is backed by popular opinion both in the US and in Israel. In both countries, there is great unease over the direction the Iranian nuclear talks have taken, and Americans are less concerned by perceived slights of the president then they are by the nuclear threat that a recent Gallup poll showed to be the most significant security concern of a full 77% of US citizens.
Obama’s obvious capitulation to the ayatollahs is so thorough that many efforts to justify it have been met with raised eyebrows including from some of Obama’s traditional allies like the Washington Post and The Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg.
Amazingly, the controversy that has accompanied the Obama administration’s frenzied response to the engagement at Congress has moved the issue of Iran to the center of the world’s diplomatic focus, right where Israel needs it to be.
The last time Obama addressed the AIPAC conference now in full swing in the US capital, he vowed to a skeptical audience that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
Now the chips are down and Prime Minister Netanyahu has arrived in Washington to cash in on that pledge. Surely he deserves the backing of all Israelis and all Americans.