A friend asked me to take off my analyst’s hat for a moment and to say what I think about Bibi’s decision to accept Boehner’s invitation to address the Congress, and what I thought of Bibi’s spech today.
I think that Bibi acted responsibly in coming to the US when Boehner offered him the opportunity. I think he came because he really believes that the pending deal with Iran is very flawed and because he believed that he could persuade the Congress to demand that Obama get a better deal than seemed to be on the table. Moreover, I believe Bibi accomplished his goal and that, if there is a deal reached in the next two weeks, it will be a better deal than Obama would have gotten otherwise.
At a minimum I think the sunset provision on a deal will be extended so that the deal will not lapse in less than 15 years. And if the Iranians balk and walk, I do believe they will come back to the table because, as Bibi said, they need the deal more than the US does.
As for Bibi’s daring to set himself against Obama by coming, I think that the administration attempted to use his acceptance of the invitation to do all it could to create the illusion of a crisis in US-Israel relations, with the aim of causing Bibi’s Washington gambit to blow up in his face in the Israeli elections which are coming up on 3.17. Indeed, since last Wednesday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s best talking point against Bibi has been borrowed from National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s accusation on Charlie Rose that Bibi has “destroyed” the bipartisan fabric of the relationship. Israelis may dislike and distrust Obama (3:1), but they also understand that Israel’s security depends upon the close alliance with the US. Consequently, if they believe Bibi has put that alliance in jeopardy, as the political opposition and the opposition Israeli press are now arguing all the time, enough voters may turn away from Bibi on election day, to cost Likud dearly, though perhaps Bibi less so.
Indeed if this happens, my guess is that these alienated Likudniks will turn not to Herzog-Livni but to one of the right of center parties (Kulanu most likely or National Home) which, at the end of the day, will most likely mean that Bibi will end up at the helm of the next government albeit with a smaller Likud in the coalition.
Will a reelected Bibi be able to work with Obama? Will Obama be willing to work with Bibi? All appearances of animosity notwithstanding, I believe they will manage to work together as dictated by the underlying nature and strength of the alliance which runs much deeper than the momentary feelings of the chance inhabitants of the offices of president and premier. Not that Obama will be want to squander any part of his remaining 18 months in office trying to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but when the next crisis arises, as it surely will, he will indeed have Israel’s back because the underlying terms of the relationship demand that he do so.
Indeed, Obama’s personal feelings for Bibi are really almost irrelevant to the day to day business of the relationship. The relationship between the US and Israel is, like a marriage, held together by something much deeper and more stable than the day to day feelings or moods of the two partners. And such a relationship, while hardly immune to change, changes on the fundamental level only slowly and over a very long period of time. Of course even the sturdiest marriage can only take so much tumult before there is talk of divorce which is preceded by the thought thereof and which is still a far way from an actual decision to dissolve the marriage. And, I am quite sure we are not anywhere near even the thought of the thing, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.
In sum, it has not been a good week, nor a good month for the relationship, but the warm response to Bibi in the Congress today is really more indicative of the strength of the underlying political support for Israel in the US than the apocalyptic rhetoric that emanated from the White House, and circulated in the press in both the US and Israel during the past week. I wish the White House had taken a different tone, but I guess they were petrified that Bibi would be as effective before Congress as he indeed proved to be and consequently, in anticipation, they felt it was incumbent upon them to do their utmost to tar and feather him so as to inoculate themselves preemptively against Bibi’s arguments against what they still hope to be a signal diplomatic achievement of this administration.
And of course the administration still hopes that its pushback against Bibi will lead enough Israelis to turn away from Bibi on election day. And yet, whatever happens to Bibi on election day in Israel, today’s speech will have legs, as they say, and as a consequence the Congress will surely demand that the administration get a better deal with Iran than it would have secured otherwise. And this is probably as much as Bibi might have hoped to accomplish..