Keeping Score

Prime Minister Netanyahu's trip to Washington this week was a big success for him personally as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle gave him an enthusiastic reception, and he went home with good footage for his campaign commercials. 

He didn't produce any of the new information about Iran and its nuclear ambitions he had promised, and he didn't appear to have changed any minds, but the appearance gave him a slight boost in the polls back home, though not enough to take the lead. It remains to be seen whether that is temporary or a trend.

Whatever the speech achieved for Netanyahu's personal political fortunes, it only worsened the crisis in US-Israel relations.  Strains between the two allies were exacerbated by the PM's partnership with Republican Speaker John Boehner to undercut the U.S. negotiations with Iran.

The whole thing was a big victory for Boehner, whose real goal was not enlightened debate on Iran but a partisan effort to drive a wedge between congressional Democrats and friends of Israel, and to undermine the longstanding wall-to-wall pro-Israel coalition on Capitol Hill. 

This wasn't the first time Netanyahu had blatantly taken sides in American partisan politics.  In 2012 he virtually endorsed GOP nominee Mitt Romney for president.

A big loser in speechgate appears to be Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, the Netanyahu protégé and former Republican political operative who engineered the speech with Boehner and kept is secret from the administration.

The word around Washington is that Dermer is toast in this town, at least as far as Democrats and the administration are concerned.  He is virtually persona non grata and unwelcome at the White House and State Department, where his credibility and trust are at rock bottom.  There have been calls in Israel for his recall but that is unlikely since he is a close confidante of Netanyahu and seen as being his master's voice.

The speech Dermer and Boehner cooked up was historically unprecedented.  Never before had the opposition invited the head of a foreign government to appear before the Congress to lobby against the policies of the sitting President of the United States.  Someone compared it to the Democrats inviting French President Jacques Chirac to address the Congress in opposition to President George W. Bush's plans to invade Iraq.  Those same Republicans who cheered Netanyahu's attacks on President Obama this week would have been screaming treason back in 2003.

If you're keeping score, the tally reads Boehner 2, Ayatollahs 2, Netanyahu 2, Israel 0.

The trip was a success for Boehner because he was able to drive a wedge between congressional Democrats and Israel while also poking a finger in the eye of a President he loathes.  Bibi scored because he poked a finger in Obama's other eye and left town with pictures for his campaign ads and media coverage he wouldn't have gotten by staying home. The ayatollahs were big winners because they saw a deterioration in relations between the Great Satan and the Little Satan and because Bibi and his fellow Republicans lost the veto-proof majority they were looking for to impose new sanctions on Iran.

Israel is the big loser because its solid bipartisan base on Capitol Hill took a direct hit, and the damage Netanyahu has done could reverberate across the spectrum of the relationship for a long time to come. 

The administration's message to Netanyahu is a variation on the Pottery Barn rule:  you broke it, you fix it.

That's a job for Israeli voters.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.