Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress has jeopardised US-Israel relations

The White House is agitating in support of Binyamin Netanyahu’s opponents in next month’s Israeli election as his plan to attack Barack Obama’s Iran policy in an address to the US Congress continues to backfire on the Israeli prime minister.
The Obama administration has engineered a series of highly visible snubs of Netanyahu – from refusing a White House invitation and levelling accusations that the Israeli government is not trustworthy to a humiliating leak about new limitations on intelligence sharing – just weeks before the Israeli leader faces a tight general election.
Top administration officials, including Vice-President Joe Biden and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, have made a point of meeting Israeli opposition leaders who have seized on the dispute to characterise Netanyahu as jeopardising relations with Israel’s most important ally.



Biden, who is also president of the US Senate, and several Democratic members of Congress will be conspicuously absent from next week’s speech in which the Israeli prime minister is expected to effectively accuse Barack Obama of being duped by the Iranians in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme and of endangering the existence of the Jewish state.
Aaron David Miller, who served six US secretaries of state as an adviser on Arab-Israeli negotiations, said the confrontation marks a further deterioration in an already dysfunctional relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. But Miller, who is now a vice-president at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said the Israeli leader’s divisive handling has handed the administration an opening “to try to demonstrate how much the US-Israeli relationship is dysfunctional at the top because of Netanyahu” and an opportunity to press for “regime change”.
“If you asked John Kerry and Obama privately who they wanted to see as the next prime minister of Israel, it wouldn’t be Netanyahu. They prefer the [Israeli opposition] Labour party. There’s no question about it. This invitation-gate, as I’m describing it, has created an opening for them,” he said.
That opening has been seized upon, Miller said, to try to embarrass Netanyahu before the Israeli electorate by portraying him as untrustworthy and endangering the Jewish state’s most important diplomatic relationship.
The White House is particularly incensed that the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, conspired to arrange the speech to a joint sitting of Congress without consulting the administration. Democrats accuse Boehner of ambushing the president as the Republicans push – with the backing of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington – to strengthen sanctions against Iran, a move Obama has warned “will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails”.
But it was Dermer, who was born in the US and worked as a Republican political operative before moving to Israel, who instigated Netanyahu’s address to Congress. Netanyahu has defended the speech as a legitimate attempt to stop Obama from making concessions to Iran that the Israeli leader said will leave Tehran on the brink of being able to build a nuclear weapon.. 

Netanyahu’s warnings of an imminent threat from Iran, already treated with scepticism, will have been further undermined by revelations in the Guardian this week that Israel’s own intelligence service, Mossad, contradicted his claim to the United Nations in 2012 that Tehran was about a year away from constructing a nuclear weapon.