John Boehner, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, disengenuously claims he did not commit a grave breach of protocol by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of the house without first gaining advance White House clearance.

“I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye,” he said recently.

If Boehner — a Republican — is serious, he’s either a cynic or a fool.

With the Republicans having seized control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Boehner was clearly flexing his muscles by issuing this misbegotten invitation. Obviously, he’s blatantly challenging President Barack Obama and trying to weaken his ability to govern effectively.

Boehner, who sent the invitation following Obama’s State of the Union speech, claims he was motivated by sound reasons. Eager to highlight the threat posed by radical Islam and Iran, he believes that no politician is better qualified to discuss these current issues than Netanyahu, whose country is at war with Islamic forces ranging from Hamas to Hezbollah.

Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver his speech on March 3, two weeks before Israel’s general election.

One suspects that the real reason behind Boehner’s invitation turned on his supposition that Netanyahu can lend strong support to a bipartisan movement in Congress to impose yet more economic sanctions on Iran, which has been engaged in nuclear talks with the major powers for more than a year now.

Netanyahu perceives Iran as Israel’s greatest enemy and an existential threat and presumably regards Boehner’s gesture as a golden opportunity. It will give Netanyahu a platform to blast a deal that may leave Iran capable of enriching uranium and to reiterate his mantra that new sanctions are necessary to squeeze more concessions out of Iran. Republicans and some Democrats share Netanyahu’s concerns.

The Obama administration sharply disagrees with this view. Obama has vowed to veto new sanctions on the grounds that they would virtually ensure the failure of diplomacy and possibly trigger a Middle East war.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, has warned that further sanctions would destroy the chances of a nuclear agreement

While it’s debatable whether a fresh round of sanctions would indeed undermine the nuclear talks, whose outcome may well spell the difference between war and peace, differences of opinion over this crucial matter are perfectly legitimate.

But at the end of the day, the issue at hand right now is whether Boehner had a right to invite Netanyahu to Washington, D.C. without Obama’s knowledge and approval and whether the Israeli prime minister exercised wisdom in accepting it.

Boehner, an extremely partisan politician who revels in his anti-Obama agenda, had no business inviting Netanyahu without consulting with the White House, whose constitutional prerogative it is to set American policy. His denials notwithstanding, he was attempting to embarrass the president by making an end-run around the White House.

Worse still, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, a former Republican operative before making aliya, was fully complicit in orchestrating this inflammatory invitation. As a result, Dermer — a confidant of Netanyahu — is now being rightly raked over the coals for having placed his boss’ narrow political interests above Israel’s pivotal relationship with the United States, its chief ally.

No less a person than Michael Oren, Dermer’s predecessor, has advised Netanyahu to cancel his speech. If Netanyahu goes through with it, he will probably damage Israel’s bonds with the United States and “hurt our attempts to act against Iran,” said Oren.

Two of Netanyahu’s former cabinet colleagues, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, broadly concur with Oren. As Livni said, “Netanyahu’s step may serve him personally (and) politically, but hurts Israel’s security.”

By accepting Boehner’s misguided invitation, Netanyahu has ignited a totally unnecessary political row that may yet morph into a debacle, worsened his already problematic relationship with Obama, offended key Democratic leaders (“This was not the right thing to do,”says Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic congressional leader), and left an indelible impression that he’s a Republican in spirit.

No wonder Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry decided not to meet Netanyahu while he’s in Washington.

Efraim Levy, the former director of the Mossad intelligence agency, told The New York Times that Netanyahu has made an egregious mistake by effectively siding with the Republicans.

This is a point worth pondering.

Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States is based on bipartisan congressional support, and Netanyahu  may be endangering it by playing fast and loose with politics. He should have politely turned down Boehner’s invitation and saved himself a lot of trouble.

The problem has now been compounded by Israel’s rash decision on January 30 to publish bids for the construction of 450 new housing units in the West Bank, whose final status should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Voicing “deep concerns about these highly contentious construction announcements,” the White House spokesman correctly called them “detrimental” to peace.

In the past 10 days, Netanyahu has grievously harmed Israel’s national interests — first by rushing pell mell to accept Boehner’s ill-conceived invitation, and second, by adopting yet another unilateral measure that’s bound to foreclose the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Perversely enough, Netanyahu is one of Israel’s worst enemies.