Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
The Netanyahus head to the US
Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
Ron Ben-Yishai

Mr. Netanyahu, don’t go to Washington

Op-ed: Ynet's national security correspondent urges prime minister to consider consequences of his address, in face of such strong opposition from Obama administration.

To the honorable prime minister,


I turn to you as a concerned Israeli citizen who, like you, is losing sleep over Iran's attempt to go nuclear. But I ask you, for the sake of Israel's security, do not go through with this speech you are set to deliver on Tuesday before a joint session of the US Congress.



Go to Washington DC, talk to AIPAC, meet Congressional leadership from both sides of the aisle, and give a string of interviews. On the way home, stops in Berlin, Paris and London, and hold meetings with Merkel, Hollande and Cameron. Don't forget Putin in Moscow – although your chances with him are slim.


Such a diplomatic offensive - blending public and classic diplomacy - like that of the other partners of the nuclear talks, has a good chance of preventing or at least improving the bad deal currently being hatched with Iran. Such a mission would not harm Israel's interests, unlike the speech you plan to give on the Hill despite of opposition by the US president, his government officials and senior Democrats.


You know better than me that according to the Constitution and the principle of the division of government it is the executive – the president and his government – who have the prerogative to sign international deals with foreign states. Just like the deal currently being negotiated with Iran does not demand Congressional confirmation. So why give Obama an excuse? He will obviously not want to appear to be caving in to the pressure you and your Republican allies have exerted, and might as a result even choose to compromise further and reach a deal with the Iranian Ayatollahs.


You see Mr. Netanyahu, the Republicans in both houses are currently trying to push through a special bill that would force Obama to bring any deal with Iran to congressional vote. It is far from certain such a bill would even pass. But even if it does, it will mean only one thing: That Obama will not be able to make good on his promise to the Iranians to remove the sanctions imposed by the US.


The other five powers (Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany), the partners to these sanctions which were levied as part of the UN and the current round of negotiations with Iran, would still be free to act as they see fit. There is no doubt at this point that these five will gradually start lifting the sanctions regardless of what the US Congress decides or how loud you (and Gulf state leaders) scream foul. Russia and China even stand to gain economically in such a scenario.


And when that happens, the economic pressure on Iran will significantly decrease, and with it the chance of delaying an Iranian bomb by 10 or 15 years. Without the Europeans and China, the sanction offensive collapses. Therefore, it is so very important that you, Mr. Netanyahu, address Europe, and do not ignore them so insultingly, as you will when focus on the US. In doing so, you are acting like an American politician, not like a statesman on the international stage.


One possible win from your Congress address is an additional sanctions "package", stronger and more devastating than its predecessors, so as to force Iran to compromise; or to put it more accurately – Congress could force Obama to impose additional sanctions – while talks are in progress or right after they collapse. But the chances of such a scenario have already dropped to nearly zero.


Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu prepare to leave for the US (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO) (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO)
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu prepare to leave for the US (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO)

Why? Because you, Mr. Prime Minister, have torpedoed the chances for such a move gaining a majority vote in Congress. Democratic lawmakers who planned to support any new sanctions are now refusing to do so, in retribution for your planned speech; Obama has already announced he would veto any immediate sanctions.


Should the talks with Iran fail, you will have your work cut out. The Obama administration will be disappointed and even concerned, and impose the new sanctions you so dream of, but this time stronger and more potent than before. Secretary of State John Kerry will make sure the other world powers fall in line. So why are you sticking your finger in Obama's eye?


No one is listening 

When you do give your speech, you will not have the full attention of American lawmakers, or that of the local media, or even the American public. The focus will be not on the substance of your words, but on the small details surrounding it.


The pundits will painstakingly tally up and report on how many members of the Senate and Congress actually showed up, on who was missing and why. They will count how many standing ovations you receive and even try to gauge the volume of the applause. Afterwards, these statistics will be analyzed and compared to previous speeches on the Hill – when you were still at the heart of bipartisan consensus.


Even if it is not your intention, the Congress speech, undertaken at the invitation of the Republican leader and him alone, is perceived in America and the world as the Israeli prime minister's official ascension to the Republican Party ranks, and a declaration of war on the sitting US president. This is both unwise and counterproductive in terms of Israel's most fundamental interests.


Who knows better than you that every Israeli government has made sure that support for Israel remains completely partisan in the political consensus? First and foremost, this is vital to our national security. Our allegiance with the US is a central factor in our military deterrence and our regional strength, both actual and perceived.


The American consensus on Israel is one of the reasons we do not need to beg or even petition the US for diplomatic support, military aid and security cooperation. On the other hand, an open and severe rift in relations – even if it's only temporary – with a US president, might foster some dangerous ideas in Tehran, Beirut and Damascus, while sowing insecurity in Amman and Cairo.


Besides that, when you challenge Obama, you hurt the international standing of the US. I urge you to remember, Mr. Netanyahu, that not only do we Israelis not have another country, we also do not have another super-power ally.


Political consensus around Israel and the United States is also essential for those who live there. They do not want to be torn between loyalty to Israel and loyalty to the United States. The American public also must not view your justifiable resistance to a bad agreement with Iran as an attempt by Israel to drag the United States into a new Middle East war - this time with Iran.


After all, these comments have already been heard in the US and they are growing, and will become even louder if we do reach the point where we have no choice but to strike Iran in order to prevent a genuine and looming existential threat. After all, we will need American support and the US to stand by our side. But if, God forbid, an American pilot or sailor is killed, these charges against us will resurface, and more powerfully.


I agree with you, Mr. Netanyahu, our special relationship with the United States will survive the serious rift you have created with the Obama administration. But Obama and his team will be there for another year and a half, and if you are still prime minister of the State of Israel, they teach you and us a lesson. It won't be a showy display, but felt in the small things: A hostile UN decision here, a delay in the delivery of weapons and spare parts there.


You know the game and know harmful this could be, especially in times of a security crisis. May I remind you that our own Military Intelligence predicts that 2015 will be an explosive year? And you know better than I that our security cooperation with the United States has been damaged, and the cracks are widening.


Benefits of cancelling

Suppose you ignore, for reasons known only to yourself, the price tag that your speech carries for my national security and that of other Israeli citizens. But how can you give up on the huge concessions that you could get now, if you just climbed down from the tree? You know that if you canceled the speech, you could get from Obama and his government almost anything you ask for in terms of defense and diplomacy.


Administration officials have leaked that the US is mulling a "nuclear umbrella" for Israel, should it face a threat from Iran or any other Middle Eastern country that goes nuclear in Iran's wake. It implied that the US would be willing to grant Israel increased aid and reinforce its active defense (Iron Dome, Magic Wand and Arrow 3 defense systems), and even proposed that the US government will coordinate in advance with the Israeli military on any strikes if the Ayatollahs' regime violates its obligations under any agreement that is signed.


Not to mention delivering strategic military equipment and increasing cooperation in the field of cyber warfare, and no less important – having Israel's back when it is fighting Abbas' diplomatic intifada in the international diplomatic arena.


Mr. Prime Minister, I expect you to exercise discretion and strategic thought, and cancel the speech before both houses of the US Congress, whose damage far outweighs its benefits. Such a step would be truly Churchillian, appreciated both by history and Israel's citizens.


פרסום ראשון: 03.01.15, 23:57
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