Shadow Government

Bibi the Bridge Burner

As word leaks out that the Obama administration is prepared to agree to a 10 year deal with Iran, after which Tehran could go full bore towards a nuclear capability, one must wonder what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, were thinking when they hatched a plan for ...

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As word leaks out that the Obama administration is prepared to agree to a 10 year deal with Iran, after which Tehran could go full bore towards a nuclear capability, one must wonder what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, were thinking when they hatched a plan for the Israeli leader to address a joint session of Congress. Their clear disdain for the Administration blinded them to the reality that no Democrat could vote for additional sanctions once the issue became one of partisan politics. Netanyahu claims otherwise, but his protestations ring ever more hollow with each passing day.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), no stranger to partisanship, offered Netanyahu a chance to meet separately with Congressional Democrats. Netanyahu refused, arguing that such a meeting would be “partisan.” Yet if his goal was to convince the largest number of legislators, why refuse a chance to meet with anyone, especially those least likely to attend his speech on the Hill?

Even if members of both parties were to attend his address to Congress, Netanyahu may already have damaged his cause beyond repair. To begin with, whatever his personal feelings about President Obama, Netanyahu needs American support on a host of issues, not just the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. For the past several decades, Jerusalem has relied on Washington’s veto of anti-Israel resolutions in the U.N. Moreover, in spite of the little personal warmth Obama has displayed toward Israel, it has depended on the Obama administration in particular to block United Nations recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state. Israel needs ongoing American support in the International Criminal Court to prevent Palestinian efforts to brand its leaders and military officials as war criminals. It needs American military equipment. It needs American dollars to buy that equipment. The list goes on. And on. Mr. Netanyahu is putting all of this in jeopardy. And if he does not think he is, he is kidding himself.

Jewish-American support for Israel is strong, but not strong enough to overcome a determined administration. Never has been. And the majority of Jewish Americans are unhappy with some or most of the current Israeli government’s policies.

If all that were not enough, Netanyahu’s determination to address Congress has all but destroyed any chance the Hill’s passing new sanctions and overriding a presidential veto. The deal will therefore go ahead. Will Israel respond to what on its face is indeed a bad deal with Iran by launching a strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities? And if it does, given the atmosphere that Netanyahu has generated in Washington, can it seriously expect American support of any kind?

How long would it take for Iran to recover from a strike and obtain a nuclear weapon? Five years? Ten years? Without American support, how safe would Israelis be in a decade’s time?

These are not comfortable questions. But the source of that discomfort is Netanyahu. He is right to oppose a deal that he views as bad for his
country. But he is wrong to put the Israeli-American relationship at risk. He still has time to change his mind and stay home.

Photo credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Correction, Feb. 26, 2015: The International Criminal Court is the court that opened a preliminary examination of possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories. An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to it as the International Court of Justice, a different court based in The Hague.

Dov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.

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