On biting gifts, Congress and Netanyahu

When the elections were declared in Israel, this blog referred to the Cholent element. You know what you put in the oven on Friday, but you can never know what will come out on Saturday, Lunch time…
Well, Israeli politics seem to have exceeded even the wildest dreams / nightmares [it is in the eye of the beholder to decide what].

I refer to the “spontaneous” invitation by the Speaker of the House to PM Netanyahu deliver a speech to Congress, just before the Israeli elections. Clearly, the timing has nothing to do with the elections, sheer coincidence, and as clearly, Netanyahu has never shown sympathy to the Republican Party, nor have they ever been suspected of viewing him as their favorite Israeli son…

The only element of this story which is NOT laughable is the subject of the speech.

Iran IS a big issue, particularly its nuclear program, but not only. A reminder was provided this week when 12 terrorists were sent to hell , among them an Iranian General, who had no business being seconds away from the Israeli-Syrian border, other than scheming the killing of Jews.

So, why not a big dramatic speech by the PM in front of Congress, in fact, the US public opinion at large?

To start with, American intervention in Israeli campaigns is nothing new . I remember how the H.G.W Bush Administration worked hard to bring Yitzhak Shamir down in 1992. I know because I was there, in the P.M office.

I also remember the Clinton Sharm Al Sheikh production in favor of Shimon Peres, following the car bombs in the streets of Tel Aviv, making the Oslo Accords looking like a bad and very sad joke. So, let us make it clear, regardless of the yelling of Herzog, Livni and Galon. This is not a Bibi Netanyahu/Republican precedent. The current P.M follows in the footsteps of others, but still it is a big mistake, perhaps even a crucial one.

Shamir was brought down in 1992, and so was Bush, so no damage then. Peres lost in 1996, and Clinton worked with Netanyahu for three years, so damage there was very limited, if at all. Barack Obama is here to stay for two more years, not a lame duck, despite the November 2014 Congressional results. In fact, whoever watched the State of the Union Address just the other day, is surely aware of a belligerent President Obama.

Netanyahu believes that he will stay a PM for four more years [you never know in Israel how much time from one election to another…], so is it too risky to assume that the cold relations with Netanyahu will turn frigid? The WH makes no bones that they are upset, and their initial angry reactions are just the prelude to a bigger, nastier campaign against Netanyahu until 17 March, and obviously afterwards if he will win the elections. Does Israel need it? does Netanyahu need it? maybe he does, in fact, we all, if there is a reasonable chance that his speech will achieve the dramatic effect of stopping the US from signing an agreement with Iran, which may be considered dangerous? the answer is, it can happen, never say never, but the likelihood is very small.In fact, there is no certainty that ANY agreement is going to be signed, moreover, that if one is to be signed, it will necessarily compromise Israel’s national security.

Sure, Israel has its legitimate and justified positions, and it has the right, indeed it is obliged to use all its influence in the US , in order to prevent the Administration from signing a bad agreement.

That said, is it the right tactics to use ALL the ammunition at such an early stage?, after all , the P.M can give the speech of his life, and he knows one or two things about giving speeches, and yet the Administration¬†can be unimpressed and sign exactly the agreement that Israel will be SO opposed to. What will Netanyahu do then? Go to the UN, or maybe ”friendly” France and Britain?

Assuming that this IS a bad Administration[and I ,for one, do not share this view], it makes much more sense for Netanyahu to be reelected first, and then come to Congress with a renewed mandate from the people of Israel,¬†and in a way which will not look partisan. The new date of the speech is 3 March, the elections on 17 March, so why the rush?, well, not a question by a naive observer, I know, the elections…[what a surprise!…

Again, not being naive , a possible gain of a couple seats in the elections is not worth the damage to the overall relationships with the US.It is not just President Obama, and that in itself is potentially bad, very bad. It may be something bigger-the collapse of bi-partisan support for Israel in Congress in general , and with regard to the Iranian issue in particular.Until now,it was not so clear, that the President would have the ability to veto a new sanctions resolution. 12 Democrats were needed to turn it around, it could be achieved, clearly was easier to do that, if the question did not become partisan, and if Congress did it by itself, without the intervention from the outsidee. VERY doubtful if that can be achieved under the new circumstances.

The Republicans want to give Netanyahu a gift, but alas, he and we all could expect to get something better, and more helpful, not a biting gift like that.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina