It’s surprising that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in trying to undermine the credibility of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would bring up the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush,” Kerry said at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing late last month. “We all know what happened with that decision.”
Wait. Wasn’t his proclamation in 2004 that “I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for war in Iraq and Afghanistan] before I voted against it,” the flip-flop that heavily damaged his presidential bid that year? “ Did he really want to bring that up?
But no-holds are barred in the current tussle between the U.S. and Israel over nuclear talks with Iran, as Netanyahu address to Congress was unwelcome by the White House.
Netanyahu has many reasons to be suspicious, not the least of which is apparent weakening of resolve by the U.S. on this matter. In June, 2013, United Nations envoy Samantha Power told a gathering of U.S. Jewish leaders that when it comes to thwarting Iran’s nuclear program “No deal is better than a bad deal. We will not accept a bad deal.”
Just days later the negotiating parties emerged from meetings in Geneva with the framework of an understanding, and a month later Iran agreed to roll back parts of its program, limiting its uranium production to below weapons grade (for now), in exchange for relief from sanctions. The latest version of the deal would kick the can down the road for 10 years, allowing the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism to ramp up its nuclear production over time.
From Israel’s point of view, that’s just sweeping the problem under the carpet. Even if the U.S.-Israel relationship is as strong as the White House says it is right now, who is to say the chief executive of 2025 will feel the same way or take the problem seriously at all.
At that point, of course, it will be too late to get tough. For Netanyahu and a large share of his electorate, it’s a zero sum game. No amount of nuclear power can be entrusted to a country led by fanatics who support global terror and regularly telegraph their hatred of Israel. Who would make sure Iran behaves? Why, international monitors, of course.
A group of former Israeli generals said Sunday they fear the dustup over the address to Congress, tinted as it is with U.S. and Israeli politics, will signal so much disarray in the process that it will embolden the Iranians to take a hard line in the talks.
But the U.S. and Israel have faced bumps in the road before. Remember when Secretary of State James Baker in 1990, frustrated by lack of peace-talks progress, read the number of the White House and told then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to call when he is serious about peace?
The current mess seems worse because President Barack Obama on the face of it does not like Netanyahu, and the feeling is may be mutual, not so much because of personalities or politics but because Obama has consistently fallen into the trap of equating apartments built by Israelis with rockets launched by Hamas. That’s no way to show that you fully understand the existential threat felt by Israelis, which got Netanyahu elected. Obama likely worries that Netanyahu’s address will only bolster the right wing in Israel and make it more difficult to pursue any progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks before he leaves office in 2017.
It is a legitimate worry that the spectacle of Netanyahu speech to Congress at the invitation of Obama arch-rival John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, will eclipse the more appropriate and pressing issue of whether opposition to a deal that might one day allow Iran to hand over a nuke to Hezbollah should be blocked by Congress, in its role as a check against the power of the executive branch.
“Congress has every right to invite, even over the president’s strong objection, any world leader or international expert who can assist its members in formulating appropriate responses to the current deal being considered with Iran regarding its nuclear-weapons program,” former Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote in The Jerusalem Post.
But as a result of the White House face-off with both Netanyahu and the Republicans, the address will be seen as the kind of partisan fracas that leads to perennial gridlock on The Hill, rather than a key matter of international security.
This should not have become an international political spectacle; it should have been an important speech (to those who thought it was) by the one democratic country in the world that has been threatened to be annihilated by Iran its neighbor dozens of times. It is an embarrassment that U.S. and Israel politics – the president says he must keep arms’ distance from a foreign leader in the weeks before an election — have not only crept into the process but dominated the issue.
Of course, Netanyahu is a savvy politician who will use the spotlight he gains here to score points in his bid to stay in power. But keep in mind that, perhaps more than any other country, Israel has the most to lose by picking the wrong leader.
That includes one who places too much faith in the protection of allies and international monitors, who have far less to lose.
In the end we can at least all agree on one thing, Bibi is a powerful and brilliant speaker.
Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of Magenu.org, & President for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. Mr. Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.