What if Bibi is right?

Far from an electioneering stunt, the planned speech to Congress is aimed at blocking a dangerous agreement with Iran

Most Israeli political parties and most Israeli and American commentators are critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress regarding the agreement currently negotiated with Iran, two weeks before the Israeli elections. Netanyahu and his supporters are on the defense,claiming that he has to go to Washington and speak.

Bibi’s political rivals and many columnists and pundits see the Congress address largely as an election trick by Netanyahu who cooked it up together with the Republicans in Congress, who are looking for ways to hassle President Obama, and by the same token, hope to collect some more Jewish votes in 2016.

Is this really an election trick or could there be a different possibility?

Clearly, the United States and its allies are very close to signing an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear aspirations. Experts agree that this agreement will allow Iran to continue its efforts to gain nuclear weapons.

It may sound banal, but the fact is that Iran continues to threaten Israel with extinction, and obviously Israel has legitimate reasons to fear a nuclear Iran. Under these circumstances should the Prime Minister of Israel sit idly or should he do everything possible to alert the world to this grave danger, and isn’t the American Congress the right arena for it?

Obviously it would have been preferable to cooperate with the President of the United States, as Israeli leaders have tried to do almost throughout Israel’s existence, although not always successfully. Unfortunately, President Obama’s assessment of the Iranian problem is different than Israel’s, as he himself has acknowledged. The United States is indeed rapidly approaching a very dangerous agreement from an Israeli perspective.

Given this situation, Netanyahu has no choice but to appeal to Congress, hoping that it will prevent the upcoming agreement. In fact, it is not only Biby’s right. It is his duty as the Prime Minister of Israel.

But what about the timing and why two weeks before the Israeli elections?

If Netanyahu is right, the signing of the agreement is imminent and the American President refuses to listen to him, he has no choice but to go to Washington now, even if, unfortunately, President Obama refuses to meet him. Netanyahu also plans to address the AIPAC annual conference which starts on March 1st. Thousands of Israel supporters will gather in Washington and it is important that the Prime Minister of Israel will address them on the Iranian and other issues, as most of his predecessors have done in the past.

Bibi is determined to go to Washington and refuses to cancel the Congress address. His political rivals argue that this Washington visit would unfairly influence the Israeli elections’ results. This, however, is very doubtful.

Bibi’s followers support his trip and his adversaries never planned to vote for him in the first place. Most likely the undecided voters will not be influenced by the Congress speech. However, there may be some Congressmen who will be affected by the speech, and especially by the drama around it, and they may make it more difficult for the President and the Administration to sign a bad and dangerous agreement with Iran.

So, Mr. Netanyahu goes to Washington. Is it possible that Bibi is right?

About the Author
Ambassador Arye Mekel is a veteran Israeli diplomat and journalist. He served as foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Consul General to New York and Atlanta, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador to Greece and Foreign Ministry Spokesman. He was also Director General of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, in charge of all State Television and Radio broadcasts. He is currently a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University.