Two of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former trusted advisers are denouncing his plan to speak to a joint session of the U.S. Congress two weeks before the March 17 elections in Israel.
Michael B. Oren, who spent four years as the prime minister’s ambassador to the U.S., has called on Netanyahu to cancel his speech to Congress in support of new sanctions on Iran to stop its development of nuclear weapons. Former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin has echoed that sentiment, calling the planned speech a “political game” and “irresponsible.”
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner arranged Netanyahu’s visit without consulting House Democrats or President Barack Obama. The Obama administration is against the sanctions that Boehner and Netanyahu are pushing for and many see this tactic as an attempt to deal a blow to Obama and make Netanyahu look strong on security issues going into the election.
Although Netanyahu claims the timing of his visit to Washington has nothing to do with the upcoming elections, even die-hard supporters are having difficulty seeing this as anything but a political ploy on behalf of House Republicans and the prime minister. CNN went so far as to call Israel a “partisan football” being “cynically manipulated to grab headlines and seek political gain.” The public backlash has not been positive for Netanyahu as many in the opposition feel that playing politics with Congress could weaken Israel’s relationship with its principal ally.
The White House issued a statement saying Obama would not meet with Netanyahu when he visits the country for his speech due to a standing rule the president has to not meet with world leaders close to elections.
The New York Times reports both sides have said this squabble will not affect underlying security and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel. However, political analysts say the move could weaken the Obama administration’s resolve to rally allies to Israel’s side in critical places like the United Nations. This would make for a devastating blow to the prime minister’s campaign since maintaining a good relationship with the United States is considered just as important to Israelis as stopping Iran’s nuclear development.
While it seems Netanyahu’s decision to go around the Obama administration to lobby for tighter sanctions on Iran is hurting him politically, the Washington Post points out that the warnings of diminished enthusiasm from the U.S. to help is an empty threat. The U.S. and Israel exist in a symbiotic relationship where both need each other. It’s possible the Obama administration will go only so far in terms of punishing Netanyahu and House Republicans for their actions before the U.S. feels the sting of deteriorating relations with Israel.