Netanyahu needs to pull the plug on his address to the US Congress

Israel's Prime Minister is using the potential nuclear deal with Iran for his own personal political reasons. While there is still time he should heed the advice of those who actually do value the close and, until now, non-partisan relationship between Israel and the United States.    

If you watched the German Chancellor and the American President in their world security focused press conference this week, you would have good reason to be hopeful that the spectre of a nuclear armed Iran is fading fast.

It is not yet a dead cert but all indications are the pendulum has swung from pessimist back to the optimist side with the deadline for a political framework agreement March 1.

Now, according to Obama it is time for Iran to make a clear decision after the protracted negotiations with P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UNSC and Germany).

In short the deal which would be finalised on July 1, would allow Iran to have peaceful nuclear power but no weapons, in exchange for monitoring and release from crippling economic sanctions.

Iran, a signed up member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would be treated like other NPT members.

There is of course the not insubstantial matter of a certain leader of a non-NPT signatory nuclear state who is determined to trash any deal/peace talk for his personal political survival.

Yes, step up Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu for whom a platform from which to berate the world about a dangerous deal with Iran is an electoral wet dream.

So much so he is willing to take a blow torch to Israeli-US relations by turning them partisan in accepting an invitation to address the Republican controlled Congress just two weeks before the March 17 Israeli elections, and two days after we will know if the Iran deal is off. If it fails there may well be lashings of humble pie for Netanyahu, but in the real world there will be serious consternation.

Much is written about the short-sighted personality of Netanyahu which is driven by his own electoral success and his determination to pay only lip service to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. He believes he can sell Israelis the status quo when it is backed by apartheid walls and billions of dollars of US military aid and missile defense systems.

Netanyahu is an Iran hawk along the lines of Republican Ted Cruz who advocates the US arm Israel with bunker busting bombs so it can eliminate Iran’s (“terrorist nation”) nuclear programme.

Cruz seems to conveniently forget Israel could use its own stash of nukes to do the job without dragging in the Americans, and be left to clean up its own mess.

But let’s not forget the Republicans have held off on extending the sanctions on Iran until the nuclear deal is either signed or collapses which is a positive.  

The focus of Netanyahu’s address will be the existential threat he asserts Iran poses to Israel, and he is willing to risk falling flat on his face if the P5+1 deal collapses before he hits the floor of Congress. Presumably his speech writers will be close by.

As of today Netanyahu has been forced to claim his decision to speak to Congress is not based on politics and further, he is not looking for a fight with Obama!

Perhaps he should sign up for the next Tui billboard.

This defensive posture is in response to growing criticism from within Israel and abroad for a number of fairly simple reasons.

* The deal that is so close has been painstakingly hammered out by a united world  which has taken the opportunity to capitalise on the most moderate regime in Iran for some years. It is not a US-Iran deal and it is concerned with world peace which does, although you wouldn’t know it from Netanyahu’s stance, include Israel.

* Netanyahu’s actions by aligning his right-wing Likud party with the Republicans, have, according to Obama, put a “cloud of partisan politics” over US-Israel relations - not to even mention further acid on the personal relationship between the two leaders.

* A growing body of American Jews has taken exception to Netanyahu coming to Washington ostensibly to speak for the world’s Jews. Their reaction is he may well be the Prime Minister of Israel, but he does not speak for them.

* Netanyahu has made a mockery of his domestic political process where his rivals have  pointed out that in Israel it is illegal to broadcast campaign speeches for 60 days before an election. His lawyers have been arguing before the Central Election Committee that the speech should be broadcast as an important matter which has great news value and the Israeli public has a right to view it. 

* Accepting the Republican issued invitation breaks with Washington’s protocol of not hosting world leaders just weeks before their elections. Accordingly Netanyahu’s actions have created a rift with key Democrats (including Joe Biden) who must chose between supporting Israel (for some reason essential to election in the US) and supporting the President whose absence from the speech has been stated from the outset of this debacle.

Netanyahu is free to make a fool of himself on the world stage, but to claim that he is continuing to “lead international efforts” to stop “this bad and dangerous agreement” is just embarrassing, especially when the Iranians are preparing for acceptance of the compromises the deal will demand of them, and the "international efforts" have been going for the deal, not against it. 

Opinion in the US tends towards the foolishness of Netanyahu’s determination to make his speech. Even Thomas Friedman calls it a bad mistake and one which will make Israel’s friends uncomfortable and confirm for those he refers to as “anti-Semites” that Israel controls Washington. (Important to note that opposing the Israeli government’s actions does not make anyone an anti-Semite which Friedman surely knows).

The essential message at this point is the world is on the cusp of eliminating the threat of a nuclear armed Iran.

That would pull back the need for a military response triggering yet another war in the Middle East where, because of proxies and religious divides, is never confined to nice neat bombable geographical boundaries.

Netanyahu is being disingenuous in his claims that no deal with Iran is safer for Israel than the deal at hand.

The Prime Minister has tarnished and politicised relations with his country’s key benefactor at a time when the world is growing weary of Israeli politics.

He is doing what is best for his personal political survival and is taking his chances in a messy and divided Israeli electoral system.        

Sure the world media is talking about him, but is any publicity really still better than none at all?

Mr Netanyahu, send your Chief of Defence to talk tough to the Amercians about Iran, then, after the Israeli election graciously accept President Obama’s invitation to visit the White House, should you be the appropriate recipient.