Looks like I was very much on to something when I surmised that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech was in truth designed to do President Obama a solid and assure safe passage for the Iran nuclear deal. Check out the effect the premier’s actions have had on the U.S’s pro-Israel lobbies:
“But the biggest casualties may be the normally omnipotent pro-Israel lobby and its allies in the Jewish community, who have seen their credibility and political power severely shaken… Aside from possible long-term damage to the pro-Israel lobby, leaders also complain that Netanyahu and Dermer threw a monkey wrench into their meticulously laid plans to derail the American push for a diplomatic compromise with Iran over its nuclear program. The timing of the Obama-Netanyahu speech crisis couldn’t have been worse. It came just as AIPAC and other lobbyists prepared for their final push in their efforts to scuttle a deal that would allow Iran to maintain some nuclear capabilities. “AIPAC spent 10 years preparing for this moment,” said Steve Rosen, a former AIPAC lobbyist. The early months of 2015 were supposed to be used for a final push to convince Democrats to support new sanctions on Iran, a move viewed by both AIPAC and Israel as a step that could delay, or even derail, an agreement with Iran, giving the West a chance to further pressure Tehran for a possibly better deal… “The irony,” said a pro-Israel activist who asked not to be named, “is that there was a chance of actually reaching a veto-proof majority” in favor of a sanctions bill. The activist, who called the conduct of Netanyahu and Dermer “scary” and a “huge error,” said AIPAC had been blindsided by the actions of the Israelis, who “thought they know better than anyone else and didn’t consult with anyone.” The result was a double blow for AIPAC and the pro-Israel community. The speech plan has not only made it all that harder to convince Democrats, who now feel offended by Israel, to part with the president and support sanctions. It also exposed the daylight between the lobby and the Israeli government.”
Defanging the pro-Israel lobbies in this way could just be a boneheaded blunder on the Prime Minister’s part but keeping his closest and most influential allies in the dark tells me Netanyahu knew what he was doing when he chose to politicize the issue. He could have followed diplomatic protocol, gotten bipartisan Congressional approval for his harangue, and thereby have the unabated sway of AIPAC at his back. That he decided to undermine his own efforts to scotch the Iran deal with clumsy cloak and dagger machinations means that Netanyahu must feel that even at full strength he and the lobbies were going to suffer a devastating loss. He’d be absolutely right in thinking that since they’d be facing the weight of the world. Congress ultimately isn’t going to vote against the international community. So, in addition to Netanyahu doing this as a token of appreciation for Obama’s aid against the Palestinian’s statehood drive, he sabotaged his own crusade so that AIPAC et al would be spared an ignominious defeat when they go all out against the President and still get beaten. Now the Israel lobbies can safely sit out with their power and influence intact and play the ‘what if’ game about the Iran deal. They’ll be able to keep telling themselves that there was a chance for victory when there never was.
When I read that Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there could be yet another extension my reaction was the sentiment expressed in this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. All the elements for the technical part of the agreement have been present since July so why can’t we just “get on with it!?” Adding to the exasperation is Seyed Hossein Mousavian revealing that “Informed European sources told me that the negotiators were on the verge of announcing a political agreement in Vienna but it was blocked for apparently unknown reasons.” So what he’s saying is Secretary of State John Kerry’s team has been sitting on a complete agreement since November and its announcement is awaiting a thumbs-up from the White House. But the President has held off because he wants to use the Iran deal to club upstart Congressional Republicans and now he has a chance to use the antagonism over the agreement to take down a more tantalizing target.
Just think about how devastating it would be for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if right before he was to contentiously address a joint session of Congress, he is greeted by news of a “miraculous” breakthrough in Geneva. It wouldn’t surprise me if Netanyahu walks right into that one and this possibility has to have crossed his mind. A senior Obama administration official did say that there would be a price to pay for Bibi’s brazen stunt and a February surprise in the negotiations could very well be it. He must know he risks losing the election whether that trap is set or not. So what’s the point of his speech? Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, when asked if Netanyahu’s anti-Iran oration could really halt a bad deal, answered “It has nothing to do with it. The Americans are already aware of Netanyahu’s position. I don’t think that if he goes and speaks it’ll change Obama’s mind. I don’t think he’ll change Congress’ position either.”
Dagan is correct about the Prime Minister’s ability to persuade US lawmakers to join in on his quest to deep-six the deal. Even before Netanyahu’s acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s unilateral invitation made the issue so nakedly partisan, this was ultimately not going to be a difficult decision for Congress. Voting for more sanctions (or doing anything else to jeopardize the deal) will alienate the other P5+1 nations—especially our European allies who tire of bearing the brunt of the economic losses from maintaining the sanctions on Iran–leading them to desert the international sanctions campaign and encourage them to strike their own deal. The only thing stronger than Congress’s love for the sanctions regime against Iran is the fear of its ruination. Congress would also have to answer to the America people, who will be livid at their representatives for deliberately sinking the diplomacy with Iran that they overwhelmingly support and thereby increasing the threat of yet another U.S. war in the Middle East.
Again, why is it so important that Netanyahu makes this spiel? And why isn’t the Obama administration fighting harder to get him to cancel it? The President could point out that nearly half of Israelis prefer he do just that. But I suppose this speech is going forward because it will turn out to be the equivalent of a rare planetary alignment in politics–everyone will be a winner. The Prime Minister’s speech will serve to rally the Democrats around Obama and will help him successfully prevent a veto override. Republicans will win brownie points among their base because they will have valiantly stood up to Obama’s foreign policy and possibly get domestic concessions in the process. Netanyahu will emerge as a winner too because this will be his way of climbing down honorably before having to accept the deal. After the unremitting stink he’s made about Iran his whole career, he can’t just roll over and embrace this change without looking like a complete hypocrite and buffoon. He needs the speech so he’ll be able to honestly say to his fellow Israelis that he tried his damnedest to oppose the accord and will come off as a noble failure. He’ll be able to say he went as far as he possibly could without dynamiting the special relationship and the Israeli public will swallow that excuse without chewing.
Since Bibi’s speech will indeed only serve to ensure that the deal passes, I wonder if that was the goal all along. Netanyahu would help Obama in this diplomatic business by dividing Congress’s Iran hawks and neutralizing most of the domestic pro-Israel lobbies as an under-the-table favor for everything the U.S. has done lately for Israel—i.e. the U.S.’s opposition to the Palestinians’ UN statehood bid and their gaining membership in the International Criminal Court. This could be another explanation for why this political plot was hatched but then again it wasn’t necessary. Although it might have been a bit tougher to muzzle Congress if Netanyahu kept his flap shut, in the end Congress is too hedged in by the negative consequences of squelching a deal so desired by a world grown sick of sanctions.